Tour Down Under: Top 5 finish for Petr Vakoc in Stirling
Despite being caught behind a crash with less than one kilometer to go, the Czech champion didn't give up and put on a strong surge in the uphill finish of stage 2.
As soon as the flag went down, four riders jumped away from the peloton: Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff), Yoann Offredo (FDJ) and Patrick Lane (UniSA). The maximum advantage for the escapees was of 1:10, with the peloton pulling hard to catch them before the first intermediate sprint. From the break, Boaro attacked to take the points on the Carey Gully KOM, while the bunch came hard from behind and eventually absorbed the four with ease.
Soon after, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) took three bonus seconds, and as soon as things became more relaxed in the pack, Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal) made his move and went in a solo action which saw him stay at the front until the last 20 kilometers. Before being reeled in, the Australian won the last intermediate sprint of the day, where he was followed minutes later by the same Gerrans, who was helped by teammate Caleb Ewan, the general classification leader.
In the final 10 kilometers, Sky pushed hard and stretched the peloton, on a day already difficult because of the course and the heat, two factors which led to a couple of abandons during the stage. The hard tempo and the climb towards the line made many cyclists crack, so the field became smaller by the second. As the riders prepared for the decisive attack in the last kilometer, a crash occurred in the peloton, preventing many to fight for the victory.
Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff) took advantage of the confusion created and accelerated from a reduced group to record his first pro win and don the ochre jersey, following a two-men fight with Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida). Rohan Dennis finished third, while Etixx – Quick-Step’s Petr Vakoč got a strong 5th place, a result even more impressive considering he came from a long way back in the final 400 meters, he too being held up by that incident.
“I have to say, it was pretty hard today. We started the stage at a really fast tempo, and the heat was also an issue for most of the riders. But we were lucky that we could take on fresh bidons and ice every lap. Then we started to go really fast in the last 30 km, just before the start of the last lap, and with just 10 km to go at the bottom of the last climb, the guys did a really good job to position me at the front. They protected me on the uphill, and I started the last few kilometres in a really good position. Unfortunately I was a bit blocked at the roundabout with around 1.5 km to go, and then with less than 1 km to go, there was a crash in front of me, which made me lose a few metres or so. So I started to sprint in the last few hundred metres, and I eventually came in 5th place. But under these circumstances, I am really satisfied. I know I can do much better, but after my win at the Tour of Poland, this is best result in a World Tour race for me so, I am really happy”, said the Czech champion, who now looks with confidence to the next stages of the race.
At the hotel, sport director Rik van Slycke sat down and explained the tactic of Etixx – Quick-Step on stage 2, praising Vakoč and his teammates for their work: “Our plan was that Petr should stay covered on the wheels of the overall contenders like Gerrans and the BMC riders Porte and Dennis, and he should not move until the last few kilometers. I think he did a perfect job and his teammates helped him out very well. Unfortunately there was a crash, and it took him some time to catch up. But if you watch Petr’s sprint, you can see that we had the perfect plan and it worked very well. Tomorrow the temperature should be a bit lower. The guys are suffering from the heat, but it’s not only our team, but also the others in the race. It has been quite extreme for the past two days, with temperatures of reaching around 35 degrees. But we are able to manage with ice, sunscreen, cold drinks and refreshments. So for today, coping with the temperatures went okay, but we will see what tomorrow brings”
Stage three of the Tour Down Under (Glenelg-Campbelltown, 139 km) will provide a new opportunity for the GC cyclists, as the course includes the now famous Corkscrew climb, from the top of which there’s only 6 kilometers left (including a deceiving descent) until the finish.
Photo credit: Tim De Waele