(no pictures today – will add once I receive them)
Team HTC – Columbia took their second stage win of The Tour of Britain, but in dramatically different style to Andre Greipel’s win in Blackpool on Saturday, as Michael Albasini powered to victory, escaping on the fearsome Constitution Hill to win alone in Swansea.
Victory, by eight seconds over Ian Bibby and Stijn Neirynck, moves Albasini into the Yellow Jersey presented by Bikeability, with a 1 minute 26 second lead over erstwhile leader Greg Henderson, who came home 13th to see his race lead evaporate.
Coming on the back of a tough day in the Staffordshire Moorlands, the complexion of The Tour was once again changed by a tough day down through the Brecon Beacons National Park, with the poor weather conditions once again playing a part in the action.
The action was once again fast paced from the start, with lots of attacks going in early, though none managed to gain an advantage over 15 seconds.
HTC – Columbia were a constant presence towards the front of the bunch, stringing the peloton and pilling on the pressure as the first hour covered an impressive 29 miles of Welsh roads.
Not long later and the race shaping break was instigated as Cameron Meyer and Pim Ligthart attacked after 30 miles of racing. In pursuit Simon Richardson, Mark McNally and Elia Favili escaped the peloton, with a further four riders including Bibby and Neirynck also giving chase.
Once the junction was made, the nine riders began working very well together, building a three and a half minute lead by 40 miles. The break was still together at the foot of Black Mountain, but with HTC setting the pace on the front of the peloton, Meyer struck out a lone, breaking clear of his companions to begin a long solo ride.
With fog and heavy rain making for murky conditions on the long climb, HTC – Columbia began to pile on the pressure, fracturing the field into several groups, the key of these being two groups of approximately twenty and ten riders.
At the summit Meyer’s lead over the remainder of the break stood at 1 minute 40 seconds, with a group of twenty chasers a further minute back, and another group of ten not far behind.
With the two large groups, including Yellow Jersey Henderson, coming together on the descent, the day’s crucial moment came as Albasini and Tony Martin broke off the front of the bunch, as gaps began to appear between wheels on the slippery roads. The German, who had featured in the Stage Two break on Sunday, put in several big turns, helping Albasini bridge across the gap.
Once ahead the HTC – Columbia duo joined up with the remnants of the breakaway and began to gradually ride down Meyer on the approach to Swansea, with Martin again putting in a lot of work on the front. With twenty kilometres remaining the Garmin rider had 50 seconds over his pursuers, but the climb of Black Mountain had taken its toll and the Australian was caught on the outskirts of the city, but still survived to take fourth on the stage.
Onto the finishing circuit in Swansea and the leaders came through the line together, but on the ascent of Constitution Hill Albasini surged forward from the front, pulling clear to negotiate the rest of the lap alone, crossing the line arms aloft eight second ahead of the chasing Bibby and Neirynck.
With Bibby in second it was also a good day for the British riders and teams, as McNally, Richardson and Endura’s Jack Bauer also finished in the top ten. Other winners on the day were Vacansoleil duo Borut Bozic and Johnny Hoogerland, who came home tenth and eleventh, making up time on Henderson.
Following in the wheel tracks of the first Tour of Britain stage wins for German and Kiwi riders, Albasini added the first win in the race for a Swiss rider.
“From the start I felt really good,” said the 29-year-old. “Our tactic was to make the race fast and also hard, so that we could maybe try something on the longer climb. For the first 50 kilometres there was just attacking and attacking, so on Black Mountain my team made good pace and then together with the riders from Vacansoleil we rode really hard up there.
“It was a small group at the top, and then on the downhill it was wet and fast. Tony Martin and I arrived full gas, so we made a small gap and went away. Tony did a really really big job, it was just me and him to ride, so it was really hard. In the last ten kilometres I did maybe only two turns, the rest was always Tony pulling so I could recover a little bit for the steep climb and cobblestones.”
Albasini, whose previous biggest win was the Tour of Austria in 2009, is confident of his chances of being able to hold onto the Yellow Jersey.
“Of course! It’s now a big goal to bring the jersey to London. If you look today at the race you saw a really strong HTC – Columbia team, we were always attacking and even on the climb the sprinters were making tempo. With teammates like Martin, (Marco) Pinotti, (Bert) Grabsch, (Andre) Greipel and Mark Renshaw I’m sure we can do it.”
Impressing yet again was Australian Richie Porte, who took seventh on the stage as well as holding onto the King of the Mountains and Sprints jerseys.
“I think I’m climbing as one of the strongest in the race,” said Porte. “For me I’m more interested in the classification, but obviously it’s nice to have a jersey, so we’ll defend them as much as we can.
“I’ve got such a good team here, I’ve got a good Director Sportif in Torsten Schmidt, so I’m sure he’s got it all planned.”
Stage Four sees The Tour of Britain tackle the same route as The Prostate Cancer Charity South West Tour Ride between Minehead and Teignmouth, a route widely expected to be the hardest stage of the entire race. Along the way riders will tackle the fearsome Peak Hill out of a Sidmouth, a steep coastal climb that takes The Tour along the edge of Lyme Bay.
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!
Stage Three Results
1) Michael Albasini Team HTC – Columbia 3:40:37
2) Ian Bibby Motorpoint – Marshalls Pasta @ 08”
3) Stijn Neirynck Topsport Vlaanderen – Mercator @ same time
Honda Combativity Award Winner: Cameron Meyer, Garmin – Transitions Cycling Team
General Classification standings (after three stages)
1) Michael Albasini Team HTC – Columbia 3:40:37
2) Greg Henderson Sky Professional Cycling Team @ 1:28
3) Richie Porte Team Saxo Bank @ 1:28
The Prostate Cancer Charity Points Jersey standings (after three stages)
1) Greg Henderson Sky Professional Cycling Team 31 points
2) Michael Albasini Team HTC – Columbia 30 points
3) Andre Greipel Team HTC – Columbia 15 points
The King of the Mountains Jersey standings (after three stages)
1) Richie Porte Team Saxo Bank 36 points
2) Johnny Hoogerland Vacansoleil Pro Cycling 26 points
3) Wout Poels Vacansoleil Pro Cycling 20 points
The Sprints Jersey standings (after three stages)
1) Richie Porte Team Saxo Bank 15 points
2) Michal Golas Vacansoleil Pro Cycling 8 points
3) Heinrich Haussler Cervelo Test Team 8 points