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Launching a strong sprint from Gaviria’s wheel, Bonifazio took his first WorldTour victory in a reduced bunch kick on stage 3 of the Tour de Pologne; Hofland was 2nd, Mezgec 3rd and Gaviria retains the lead

Photo: Tinkoff-Saxo/BettiniPhoto














14.07.2016 @ 18:58 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Niccolo Bonifazio (Trek) confirmed the huge progress he has made in 2016 by claiming his first WorldTour victory in a reduced bunch sprint on stage 3 of the Tour de Pologne. Coming off race leader Fernando Gaviria’s (Etixx-QuickStep) wheel, he held off a fast-finishing Moreno Hofland (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Luka Mezgec (Orica-BikeExchange) while Gaviria had to settle for 14th, thus retaining the lead.


In 2014, Niccolo Bonifazio showed that he was a man for reduced bunch sprints when he won the tough Italian one-day race Coppa Agostoni. Last year repeated the performance in the similarly hilly GP de Lugano and those result attracted the Trek team which signed him for 2016.


This year Bonifazio has made huge progress and proved that he can even match the big sprinters in the flat sprints. At the Tour de Romandie, he nearly beat no less of a figure than Marcel Kittel and it became apparent that his first win on the WorldTour was imminent.


Bonifazio got his chance to lead Trek in the sprints at this year’s Tour de Pologne and after having come up short in the first two flat stages, he was looking forward to stages 3 and 4 whose hilly courses made reduced bunch sprints the likely outcome. Today he proved his class by breaking the Etixx-QuickStep dominance as he won the long, tough third stage.


After two flat stages, it was time for the first serious climbing on stage 3 which brought the riders over a massive 240km from Zawiercie to Nowy Sacz. The first part was flat but then the terrain gradually got hillier. First they tackled a category 1 climb before they descended to the finish line which they crossed with 41km to go. Then they tackled a circuit with two category 2 climbs before they ended the stage by doing three laps of a flat 7.4km circuit.


The 198 riders who finished yesterday had pleasant weather conditions when they gathered for the start but a strong wind was expected to challenge them. That turned out to be the case as the peloton split already from the start.


After 10km of racing, a strong 20-rider group had an advantage of 32 seconds but the peloton chased them down. Seventeen kilometres later, 17 riders escaped and the wind split the peloton into two. The first bunch caught the break and then pressed on to build an advantage of 38 seconds over their chasers.


The two groups merged and when Matej Mohoric (Lampre-Merida), Kamil Gradek (Verva), Ivan Savitskiy (Gazprom), Lukasz Owsian (CCC) and Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz (Poland) attacked, the peloton calmed down. They quickly got an advantage of 1.35 and after 55km of fats racing, it had gone out to 5.20.


The gap reached a maximum of 5.40 before Etixx-QuickStep took control. At the end of the second hour, it was down to 5 minutes at a point where 84km had been covered for a fast start to the race.


Gradek beat Mohoric and Nikolaev in the only intermediate sprint while Etixx-QuickStep kept the gap stable at around 5 minutes. They slowly started to accelerate and with 80km to go, they had shave one minute off the advantage.


With 70km to go, it was already down to 2.50 but the peloton’s progress was stopped when a big crash of around 25 riders split the bunch. Gaviria was involved but managed to rejoin the peloton which was 3 minutes behind with 60km to go. The break rode strongly up the category 1 climb where Gradek beat Nikolaev, Kasperkiewicz, Mohoric and Owsian in the KOM sprint while Etixx-QuickStep led the peloton to the top around two minutes later.


With 41km to go, the peloton crossed the line for the first time to head onto the small cicuit with the two late climbs. At this this point, they were still 1.56 behind the leaders but the gap started to melt away as the fight for position intensified.


As they approached the climb, Mihaylov tried to attack but Mohoric soon brought the group back together. In the peloton, Ag2r took control with Julien Berard (Ag2r) but it was Savatore Puccio (Sky) who led the group onto the climb 1.20 behind the leaders


As soon as the road pointed upwards, Owsian attacked again and this time no one could follow. However, Mohoric gauged his effort perfectly and he passed the Pole to reach the top as the first rider, followed by Owsian and later Gradek. Further back, the rest of the break had been caught by the peloton which was led by Peter Kennaugh, Michal Kwiatkowski and Nicolas Roche for Sky, just 50 seconds behind.


Over the top, Kanstantsin Siutsou (Dimension Data) attacked to take fourth in the KOM sprint but as Jaroslaw Marycz hit the front for CCC, he was soon brought back. Gradek was also back in the fold as they approached the next climb.


Jordi Simon (Verva) launched a strong attack and sprinted past the fading Owsian. He quickly joined Mohoric who fell off the pace as soon as they hit the climb.


Maciej Paterski (CCC) and Nicolas Roche (Sky) attacked from the peloton and quickly joined Simon. Meanwhile, Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) set the pace in the peloton but he suddenly got clear and then made it across to the leaders.


Roche set a brutal pace and this was too much for Simon who was left behind. Meanwhile, the peloton exploded to pieces and lots of sprinters were dropped.


Paterski sprinted past Roche to lead the Irishman and Fernandez across the line in the KOM sprint before Davide Formolo (Cannondale) and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) reached the top a few seconds later. BMC were leading the chase in the rather small peloton while Etixx-QuickStep were chasing desperately in a bigger group further back where most of the sprinters had gathered.


After the descent, the peloton almost came to a standstill and this allowed Etixx-QuickStep to make the junction just after the next passage of the line. Metres behind the finish, Formolo and Benoot caught the leaders and the quintet worked well together to build an advantage of 20 seconds.


Lampre-Merida and Dario Cataldo (Astana) briefly hit the front while Etixx-QuickStep recovered from their effort. It was BMC that started the chase with Danilo Wyss, Alessandro De Marchi, Loic Vliegen and Floris Gerts and when Etixx-QuickStep also came to the fore with Lukasz Wisniowski, the gap came down quickly.


With 16km to go, the group was brought back and then the pace droppedonsderably, with Vliegen and Gerts riding on the front. Just before the passage of the line, LottoNL-Jumbo took control with Victor Campenaerts but the pace was not on. Hence, Lorenzo Rota (Bardiani) saw an opportunity to get away and while he built a solid advantage, Adam Stachowiak (Verva) took off in pursuit. The Pole stayed in chase mode for a few kilometres before Etixx-QuickStep finally got organized.


Lukasz Wisniowski and Pieter Serry hit the front for the Belgian team and started to reel Rota in. The Italian entered the final 10km with an advantage of 15 seconds while Stachowiak was brought back.


Rota crossed the line to start the final lap but the peloton was breathing down his neck, with Wisniowski and Serry leading the group over the line just 13 seconds later. While the two domestiques continued to set the pace, the team started to organize their lead-out.


With 6km to go, Etixx-QuickStep put Bob Jungels on the front as they lined out their train. Combining forces with Wisniowski, he reeled Rota in just one kilometre later at a time and strung the group completely out.


Wisniowski took a massive turn of more than a kilometre before Jungels again came to the fore under the 4km to go banner. The team had four riders on the front but Gaviria had lost his teammates and found himself boxed in further back.


Jungels led the group under the 3km to go banner, followed by Nikolas Maes, Wisniowski and Zdenek Stybar and when he swung off Gaviria had latched onto the back of the train. Maes took over and then left it to Wisniowski to try to hold off the Orica-BikeExchange trio of Jack Haig, Jens Keukeleire and Luka Mezgec who sprinted up next to them.


The relentless Paterski attacked again with 2km to go but Keukeleire immediately hit the front and kep him under control. Th ePole was the first rider under the flamme rouge but he was brought back just metres later.


Caleb Ewan decided to work for Mezgec and so topk over from Keukeleire with 800m to go. Gaviria was already in second position, with Bonifazio latched onto his wheel, and when Ewan swung off, the Colombian had to launch a long sprint.


Bonifazio patiently bided his time and the easily sprinted past the fading Colombian who soon stopped his sprint. The Italian took the win while Moreno Hofland finished fast to take second, followed by Mezgec in third.


Gaviria finished 14th but it was enough to retain the lead. He now has a 6-second advantage over Bonifazio while Hofland is another four seconds behind in third. He faces a very similar stage tomorrow when the riders will cover 218km. After a flat start, the terrain gets hillier at the midpoint and the riders will tackle four category 2 climbs and one category 3 climb in the second half. The final climb is located 39.4km to go and the stage ends with three laps of a flat 6km circuit, meaning that another reduced bunch sprint is expected.



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