Double joy for Stybar in Tirreno-Adriatico
The 30-year-old won stage 2 and became the new overall leader of the race, thanks to a beautifully executed attack in the final 3 kilometers.
Thursday awaited the peloton with a 207-km long stage between Camaiore and Pomarance, which took the riders south for a perfectly flat first half of the stage, before the road became more undulating once the peloton entered in the final 50 kilometers. At the start of the day, six riders got clear and managed to stay at the front until with 20 kilometers to go, when they were caught by the joined effort of Etixx – Quick-Step and Dimension Data: Simone Andreetta (Bardiani), Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18), Giorgio Cecchinel (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Luis Mas (Caja Rural), Nikolay Mihaylov (CCC Sprandi Polkowice) and Federico Zurlo (Lampre-Merida).
Designed by two-time world champion Paolo Bettini – who lives nearby – the finale was all that mattered, as it was one for the puncheurs, on a 6.4-km long climb averaging 4.2%, but pitching up to 18% in some parts. Coming at the end of a day during which the peloton had in the menu 2000 meters of vertical climbing, and having some technical sections, with narrow and twisting roads, irregular gradients and a tricky descent not far off the finish, which was in a slight uphill, the Cerreto ascent was the real deal of the stage.
Zdenek Stybar was one man aware of this, and as consequence attacked with 2.5 kilometers to go, taking a handful of seconds, despite a big chase behind him, led by Cannondale and Tinkoff. That attack turned out to be a brilliant one from the three-time World Cyclo-Cross Champion, who displayed his fantastic skills and proved once again that he's one of the best bike handlers in the peloton, taking the bends at crazy speed and never looking back, as the finish was getting closer and closer. In the final 200 meters, he knew the win was in the bag, and raised his arms in celebration for his – and the team's – first World Tour success of the season.
Second in last Saturday's Strade Bianche, Zdenek Stybar remembered the old Klingon proverb which says that "Revenge is a dish best served cold", and patiently waited for the ideal moment to attack on Cerreto, on a finish that already was in his agenda for two weeks now. The Pomarance victory, which came ahead of world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), means that the Czech rider is now the new leader of the overall standings.
"The steepest part was tough, and we knew the big move had to come there. We talked with our sport director Davide Bramati more than two weeks ago about this finish, which was very technical."
I was focused, I knew the plan and went for it, because this was my chance.
"It's a very nice moment and it makes me happy, especially after missing out on the team time trial win and the Strade Bianche one in the past days. I am content with my shape, as I worked hard to get here. Tirreno-Adriatico marks the beginning of an important block of races in which I hope to be protagonist", said Zdenek after the stage.
The Czech, who holds 9 seconds over his closest rival in the GC, continued: "I would love to keep the blue jersey until the end, but I know this is going to be difficult. The Monte San Vicino stage is a tough one, but I will fight for it. Anyway, we also have Gianluca for that day, and he's in very good condition. I don't want to think about it now, we will take it day by day and see how things pan out."
At the end of the day, Stybar took to the hotel three jerseys – blue, red and green – while another Etixx – Quick-Step rider, Bob Jungels, got to don the white jersey, which rewards the best young rider in the race: "For the team it has been an excellent day, in which we showed that we can have somebody in the front all the time, regardless of the terrain. For my part, I want to get a good result in the general classification, but it will all come down to Sunday's stage."
Stage 3 of Tirreno-Adriatico (Castelnuovo Val di Cecina – Montalto di Castro, 176 km) will be mostly downhill in the first part, before it flattens out for some 30-odd kilometers. Then, as the riders will enter the final 70 kilometers, the road will begin to rise, but the day should finish with a bunch gallop, despite the fact the last two kilometers will see a slight uphill, with a 3-4% gradient, that's going to take the sting out of some sprinters' legs.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele