Monumental ride of Petr Vakoč in Volta a Catalunya
After spending almost the entire day in the break and getting caught with 300 meters to go, the Czech Champion still had the legs to sprint to 6th.
Petr Vakoč confirmed once again his strong form, which he displayed ever since the season began, in January, at the Tour Down Under. After notching a top 5 on the stage to Stirling and finding his rhythm in Australia, he returned to Europe, where he enjoyed an incredible ride in February and March, which saw him become the first ever rider to win both Classic Sud-Ardèche and La Drôme Classic in the same season, two victories in addition to which he notched other podiums and top 10 placings in one-day races and stage events alike.
This week, the 23-year-old came at the start of the Volta a Catalunya with the double goal of helping the team and go for a strong personal result, and he was very close to reach both, coming only 300 meters short of the latter, after a day which will leave a lasting impression on everyone. Petr was one of the 11 riders who managed to go into the escape on Saturday's stage 6 (Sant Joan Despi – Vilanova i la Geltru, 197.2 km), following another fast and furious start, because of which it was impossible to snap the elastic in the first hour.
Joining the Czech Champion of Etixx – Quick-Step were Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), Axel Domont (AG2R), Romain Hardy (Cofidis), Ryder Hesjedal (Trek-Segafredo), Alex Howes (Cannondale), Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Cameron Meyer (Dimension Data), Marco Minnaard (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Rudy Molard (Cofidis), and Laurens ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin), and even though not many were giving them any chance, they kept the peloton at bay for almost the entire day, having a maximum lead of only 4:30. With 15 kilometers to go, the gap came down to under a minute, but this didn't discourage Petr, who made his way to the front and pulled hard in order to ensure the break's success.
In the final kilometer, the peloton came fast from behind, and the combined effort of IAM Cycling, Lampre-Merida and Tinkoff meant it was game over for the riders at the front, but only inside the final 300 meters. Despite being caught after spending more than three hours in the escape, Petr Vakoč remained in the first line, showing the grit and panache which only champion possess, and kicked his sprint, finishing sixth on the stage won by Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida) ahead of Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) and Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto-Soudal).
In the overall standings, not only that Daniel Martin successfully defended his fourth place, but he won again an intermediate sprint, just as he did on Friday's stage, and took the bonifications thanks to which he is now just one second behind the third place. The general classification will be played on Sunday, in Barcelona, where the peloton will go eight times on a local circuit which includes the Alt de Montjuic, a climb that can spice up things.
"The team was amazing once again, working hard and protecting Dan Martin, while also helping him get those seconds at the sprint. After that, when I saw a break could go clear, I went there and gave everything. I pushed hard all the time, hoping we will make it. The finale was really exciting, as I couldn't turn my head to see how far the bunch was and kept going until the end, focusing on my effort and on the sprint. It was a good and strong performance, which makes me happy and gives me a lot of confidence for the Ardennes Classics, but I'm also disappointed by the result, because I came really close of puling it off. But the race isn't over and we're prepared for another day tomorrow, when we'll stay around Dan in order to help him get on the podium", said Petr, the best placed rider from Saturday's escape at the finish line in Vilanova i la Geltru.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele