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Part of a 3-rider breakaway that held off the peloton, Bodnar beat Zielinski and Smukulis in the sprint to win stage 4 of the Tour de Pologne; Zielinski finished second and became a surprise leader of the WorldTour race

Photo: Sirotti

GATIS SMUKULIS

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MACIEJ BODNAR

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TOUR DE POLOGNE

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05.08.2015 @ 19:06 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff-Saxo) got the best possible return to competition after he broke his collarbone in the Tour of California when took a surprise home victory on stage 4 of the Tour de Pologne. The Pole was part of a 3-rider break that held off the peloton on the hilly course and beat Kamil Zielinski (Poland) and Gatis Smukulis (Katusha) in the sprint to take the biggest win of his career. Zielinski finished second and took the overall lead.

 

Two months ago Maciej Bodnar saw his promising 2015 season come to an abrupt halt when he broke his collarbone while riding in support of Peter Sagan in the Tour of California. As a consequence, he was out of the running for Tour de France selection and instead he was expected to make a low-key return to competition in his home race, the Tour de Pologne.

 

Bodnar’s team Tinkoff-Saxo are the defending champions but without last year’s winner Rafal Majka on the roster and a team largely made up of climbers who can’t time trial, they were not expected to play a major role in the race. However, Bodnar turned their race completely around when he took a hugely surprising victory on stage 4 of the race.

 

The stage included the first serious climbing and this always made it uncertain who was going to bring the early break back. The sprint teams wouldn’t commit to the chase before they knew whether their sprinters would make it over the climbs and so Bodnar was allowed to get a massive advantage of more than 11 minutes when he attacked with his compatriot Kamil Zielinski and Gatis Smukulis after a few kilometres of racing.

 

Sky took control of the situation to make sure that the escapees would not ride away with the GC and they got some help from Etixx-QuickStep and Lampre-Merida. However, none of those teams had any interest in the stage win and so the gap was still 3.40 when Zielinski led Smukulis and Bodnar over the top of the final climb with 36km to go. Valerio Conti (Lampre-Merida) and Adrey Zeits (Astana) were first from the peloton before Etixx-QuickStep took over with Michal Golas who made sure that Michal Kwiatkowski got safely down the descent.

 

Many sprinters had been dropped, including race leader Marcel Kittel, Giacomo Nizzolo, Sacha Modolo, Gianni Meersman, Niccolo Bonifazio, Andrea Guardini and Matteo Pelucchi, and so it took some time for the chasse to get organized. It was Lampre-Merida that took control with Conti and Cattaneo before Orica-GreenEDGE suddenly appeared with 27km to go.

 

Caleb Ewan had made it over the climb and so the Australian team positioned Simon Clarke, Ivan Santaromita, Damien Howson and Christian Meier on the front. Those four riders got assistance from a single FDJ rider as they desperately tried to bring the break back.

 

Despite their hard efforts, the gap was still 3.15 with 25km to go and when they started their first lap of the 8km finishing circuit that would be covered thrice, it was still 2.30. Orica-GreenEDGE and FDJ continued to ride hard but at the end of the first lap, the escapees still had an advantage of more than 2 minutes.

 

With 10km to go, Orica-GreenEDGE went all in as they also started to use lead-out men Mathew Hayman and Mitchell Docker for the chase while Conti worked for Lampre-Merida. Nonetheless, the gap was still 1.10 at the start of the final lap where FDJ had stopped their work.

 

Astana also came to the fore to do some work but the gap was still 1.05 with 5km to go. That’s when Orica-GreenEDGE gave up and when Michal Golas hit the front for Etixx-QuickStep, it was clear that the break would make it. Bram Tankonk (LottoNL) and IAM both tried to chase a bit but the gap was still 40 second with 2km to go.

 

Meanwhile, the escapees continued to work well together and the game of cat and mouse only started when they had passed the flamme rouge. Zielinski hit the front and no one wanted to pass the youngster who was clearly nervous in what was a big chance to take a big win.

 

Bodnar played it calmly until he started his sprint with less than 200m to go. He immediately got a big gap and easily held off the rider from the national team while Smukulis was never close and had to settle for third.

 

In the peloton, Golas had again taken control and as the pace went down, Sergey Lagutin (Katusha) and Vegard Breen (Lotto Soudal) both tried to make late moves. However, they were caught on the finishing straight and it was Ewan who beat Luka Mezgec (Giant-Alpecin) in the sprint for fourth, 20 seconds too late.

 

In addition to Bodnar, Zielinski was the other big winner as he had been on the right side of an 8-second split in stage 1. Hence, he became a surprise new overall leader of the race with a 3-second advantage over Bodnar.

 

However, it won’t be easy for him to defend his position as tomorrow’s stage is the first big one for the GC riders. Most of the stage takes place on a tough circuit that includes three big climbs and even though the final 10km are mainly descending it offers the main contenders their first chance to make a difference.

 

The first hilly stage

After three days in flat terrain, it was finally time for some climbing on day four which brought the riders over a massive 220km from Jaworzno to Nowy Sacz. After a flat first half, the riders would tackle a category 2 and two category 1 climbs in the middle section before they descended to the final 30km there were completely flat and perfectly suited to a reduced bunch sprint.

 

It was another nice summer day in Poland when the riders gathered for the start of the long fourth stage of the race. Kristof Vandewalle (Trek) was the only non-starter as the Belgian was heading home with a knee injury.

 

Three riders take off

Unlike in the previous stages, it was a fast start with several attacks but the break was still established relatively early. Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff-Saxo), Gatis Smukulis (Katusha) and Kamil Zielinski (Poland) got clear and when they had an advantage of 25 seconds, the peloton sat up. Boris Vallee (Lotto Soudal) and Adrian Kurek (CCC) briefly tried to bridge across but they never made the junction.

 

The peloton rode slowly for a while which allowed the escapees to increase their advantage to 6 minutes after 30 minutes of racing. In the peloton, Giant-Alpecin had taken control but they were not really chasing yet. At the 30km mark, the gap was 7.30.

 

Bodnar wins the sprint

Bodnar beat Zielinski and Smukulis in the first intermediate sprint at a time when the gap had gone out to 8.30 and the peloton still didn’t show any interest in catching the escapees. After 55km of racing, the advantage had gone out to 8.50.

 

No teams were ready to take control yet and so the gap had gone out to 11.20 when they got to the 75km mark. However, that was as much as they would get and after the gap had been stable for a while, it started to come down. In the feed zone, it was 9.55.

 

Sky in control

Sky now took control of the peloton and kept the gap stable at around 10 minutes before they slowly started to reel the escapees in. When Zielinski beat Smukulis and Bodnar in the first KOM sprint, the gap was 8.15. Carlos Verona (Etixx-QuickStep) was first from the peloton.

 

With 80km to go, the gap was 7.15 and 15 riders had already been dropped from the peloton as the climbing was starting to take its toll. Meanwhile, Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ) abandoned.

 

More teams start to chase

Lampre-Merida started to work with Sky and it was Philip Deignan, Cattaneo and Conti who worked on the front to keep the gap stable at around 8 minutes as they hit the first category 1 climb. Here Zielinski beat Smukulis and Bodnar in the KOM sprint while Conti was first from the peloton.

 

Etixx-QuickStep asked Verona to work with Deignan, Cattaneo and Conti and now the gap was finally coming down. At the top of the climb it was 5.30 but the escapees managed to stabilize the situation as they approached the final climb.

 

Movistar apply the pressure

The gap was 5.55 when they hit the ascent and it was Deignan who led the peloton onto the lower slopes. This was the signal for Movistar to try to make things hard as Igor Anton hit the front and he made the peloton explode. Kris Boeckmans and Boris Vallee were some of the first sprinters to get dropped and it didn’t take long for Kittel to also get distanced. The German found himself in a big group alongside the likes of Meersman, Bonifazio and Modolo.

 

When Anton swung off, Ian Boswell took over the pace-setting for Sky and he had brought the gap down to 3.40 when he reached the summit. However, that proved to be too much and it was Bodnar who came away with the victory.

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