By Peter Hodges
Dutch team take one-two in Teignmouth, but Albasini holds onto race lead
Wout Poels (Vacansoleil) takes stage 4 of The Tour of Britain
The South West boasts that is a destination for serious cyclists, and the Vacansoleil Pro Cycling team certainly showed that they are serious about winning the overall Tour of Britain with an aggressive ride across the South West peninsula from Minehead to Teignmouth, which ended in a stage win for Dutchman Wout Poels.
Poels attacked a select group of riders on the road into Teignmouth, soloing to a five second week over a group of seven chasers who came agonisingly close to catching the Vacansoleil rider on the long finishing straight.
Instead though Poels held on to win from his teammate Borut Bozic, who moves into third overall in The Tour of Britain. Finishing in the same group as Bozic were other General Classification contenders Richie Porte, Johnny Hoogerland and race leader Michael Albasini, but previous yellow jersey Greg Henderson lost a further ten seconds to slip to fourth overall, as well as losing his grip on The Prostate Cancer Charity Points Jersey.
Also starring during Stage Four from Minehead to Teignmouth was Dan Martin, who collected the Honda Combativity Award for his constant attacking, that led to the Irishman spending much of the day out in front, as once again poor weather conditions hit The Tour of Britain.
Once again the day started off with a flurry of attacks as The Tour headed away from the West Somerset Railway in Minehead and up onto Exmoor. First to escape was a group containing Martin and Kristian House, to which Russell Downing bridged across to. Despite building a relatively large advantage, the Vacansoleil driven field reeled them back in, as the Dutch squad looked to set up its trio of riders who began the day in fourth, fifth and sixth positions overall.
Garmin’s Martin then went solo on the King of the Mountains climb of Lype Hill, building a half minute advantage. Behind with Vacansoleil driving the peloton began to split up, with a number of riders beginning to struggle instantly. For several that would be the last contact they had with the rest of the field for the entire stage.
Dan Martin (Garmin Transitions)
Thanks to the Vacansoleil pressure a chasing group formed, including the Yellow Jersey, plus rivals Porte and eventual stage winner Poels. This group gradually grew as riders made it across, swelling to become the de facto peloton as the previous ‘main’ field split apart, with some riders heading forwards across the gap and others going backwards to form a gruppetto early on.
At the front Bozic then tried his hand, swiftly building a 30 second lead, which was equally swiftly eroded thanks to his threatening overall status. Next to escape was Martin again, going clear with Matthew Hayman, Ronan Van Zandbeek, Gianluca Mirenda and Vacansoleil duo Matteo Carrara and Bozic. Once again a lead was built before HTC – Columbia began to ride down the gap, making the catch just before Albasini punctured, but the Swiss rider was swiftly helped back to the front group by teammates Andre Greipel and Tony Martin, with no damage done to his position in the race.
After dropping down to the north Somerset coast, the road began to climb once more, back onto Exmoor for the Ralegh’s Cross King of the Mountains with Vacansoleil still pilling on the pressure. At the back the large group of riders in the gruppetto began to sit up, prompting a large time gap come the finish on the south Devon coast.
On the climb Dan Martin attacked once again, taking Bozic with him before the Slovenian relented leaving the Garmin rider alone. This wasn’t to last for long however, as Hayman and Hoogerland joined him, quickly building a minutes lead as the race crossed into Devon, with grew to almost two minutes after 47 miles of racing.
With the gap going past two minutes making Hoogerland the virtual Yellow Jersey, HTC – Columbia were forced into a chase, with Team Saxo Bank also joining them to protect Porte’s high general classification placing.
By Peak Hill above Sidmouth the gap was back at two minutes, and thanks to the pressure of HTC and Saxo Bank this figured continued to fall, with Albasini thankful to again have Tony Martin at his side as he punctured on the descent to Otterton.
Passing through twenty kilometres to go as the race neared Exeter and crossed the Exe Estuary the three leaders were just 34 seconds in front, prompting an attack from Martin which shedded his two accomplices, most crucially GC threat Hoogerland.
However the chase didn’t abate, with Vacansoleil now driving across to the leader, splitting the leading group on the road still further. Once caught Martin began to fell back as repeated attacks raining in, with Porte twice trying to ride himself of the other leading riders on the numerous dips and peaks of the coastal roads.
Coming out of Dawlish Poels surged ahead to no avail, but it was his second attack a few kilometres later on the final rise outside of Teignmouth that proved to be more productive, as the Dutchman countered an attack by Domenico Pozzovivo to go over the top of the Colnago rider and onto the fast descent into Teignmouth.
Switching down through the town, Poels turned onto the finishing straight clear of his rivals, holding off the charging group despite a fierce cross-headwind on the seafront finish.
“Today was a super day”, said the 22-year-old. “In the beginning we did a lot of work on the first climb to drop alot of guys and that was pretty good. And then Johnny attacked and I thought he had a good chance to win, but HTC – Columbia started riding with Saxo Bank and it came back, so there was the chance for me to win the stage.
“I attacked at eight kilometres before the finish, but they brought me back. I had a little bit of recuperation but then I attacked again at four kilometres before the finish, and then they didn’t see me anymore!
“I knew it was difficult with a lot of corners, but I took a little bit of a risk and thought when I can win a stage or crash, then I have to make a choice. I took a little bit of a risk, but everything was going good.
“It was a really hard race, with the three climbs and directly from the start it was hard, but it was a nice day.”
“It’s part of my character, attacking,” said Poel’s Vacansoleil teammate and King of the Mountains jersey wearer Johnny Hoogerland.
“With the team we wanted to make the race hard. We knew HTC – Columbia have a very strong team, but also (Mark) Renshaw and (Andre) Greipel aren’t the riders who can close the gaps in the hills. So from the start we decided to make it hard. Michal Golas did a little sprint and then Wout did nearly the whole climb and then (Patrick) Sinkewitz attacked and we were just ten riders. Then it came back and then we went again.”
“It was first 30 seconds, then 40 seconds and then four minutes, and I was thinking ‘I am going to get the General’, and I told the other guys I don’t sprint for the victory, I just want to have the general, but then Saxo Bank also started riding, I don’t know why they did.”
“I’m happy for Wout because this year he made a lot of progression, won a stage at the Tour de l’Ain and he’s going to the World Championships. I think it is significant how he did it, because Greipel and Albasini were riding full gas and still they couldn’t catch him.”
On his chances over overhauling Albasini’s race lead, Hoogerland said, “I think it’s going to be difficult, but we are not sitting in the peloton tomorrow, we still keep fighting.”
Stage Five sees The Tour of Britain remaining in the South West, as Devon and Somerset prove they are top destinations for serious cyclists with another tough stage through world-class scenery. Beginning in Tavistock, riders will tackle 178.2 kilometres of tough roads, passing across Dartmoor and through Cullumpton and Ilminster on their way to Glastonbury.
Stage Four Results
1) Wout Poels Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team 4h 30m 35s
2) Borut Bozic Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team @ 5s
3) Koen De Kort Skil – Shimano @ same time
Honda Combativity Award Winner: Dan Martin, Garmin – Transitions Pro Cycling Team
General Classification standings (after four stages)
1) Michael Albasini Team HTC – Columbia 15h 27m 41
2) Richie Porte Team Saxo Bank @ 1m 28s
3) Borut Bozic Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team @ 1m 32s
The Prostate Cancer Charity Points Jersey standings (after four stages)
1) Michael Albasini Team HTC – Columbia 39pts
2) Greg Henderson Sky Professional Cycling Team 36pts
3) Borut Bozic Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team 28pts
The King of the Mountains Jersey standings (after four stages)
1) Johnny Hoogerland Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team 45pts
2) Richie Porte Team Saxo Bank 45pts
3) Wout Poels Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team 31pts
The Sprints Jersey standings (after four stages)
1) Richie Porte Team Saxo Bank 15pts
2) Matthew Hayman Sky Professional Cycling Team 11pts
3) Borut Bozic Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team 8pts
The Tour of Britain is proud to be partnered with The Prostate Cancer Charity. Don’t forget this September your chance to follow in the wheel tracks of the professionals and ride three stages from The Tour of Britain. Go to www.tourride.co.uk to find out more!