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Having made it into a small front group on the descent from the penultimate climb, Cancellara took off in a fantastic solo move before holding off an elite chase group to win Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana; Kwiatkowski was 2nd, Benoot 3rd

Photo: Sirotti

CHALLENGE MALLORCA

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FABIAN CANCELLARA

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MICHAL KWIATKOWSKI

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TIESJ BENOOT

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TREK - SEGAFREDO

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30.01.2016 @ 16:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) got his final year as a professional off to the best possible start when he came out on top in the hardest race of the Challenge Mallorca, Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana. The Swiss made his move on the hardest climb of the race and after making it to the front on the penultimate descent, he took off in a solo move before holding off an elite chase group that was led to the finish by Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal).

 

Following his crash-marred 2015 season, many have been questioning whether Fabian Cancellara can return to his top level for his final year in the pro peloton. After just three days of racing, he has silenced his critics as he won today’s very hard Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana, the hardest race of the Challenge Mallorca series, with a marvelous solo ride.

 

On paper, the hilly course should be a bit too hard for a big guy like Cancellara and its seven climbs were expected to be allow the climbers to come to the fore. However, the Swiss defied the odds and proved that he is in excellent condition right from the start of the year.

 

Already yesterday Cancellara indicated his good form as he sprinted to sixth in the hard Trofeo Andratx and today he was back in the mix when he joined a move early in the race. That was ultimately unsuccessful but a sign of things to come as Cancellara made it into a 9-rider chase group that crested the summit of the famous Puig Major climb just behind four leaders.

 

Cancellara reached the front on the descent and then took off in a solo move. Behind, the favourites were playing their cards and Movistar and Sky were chasing full gas. However, they were unable to make much inroads on the unstoppable Swiss who was able to keep a 50-second advantage for a long time.

 

Sky had numbers in the small chase group and managed to reduce the gap to around 30 seconds on the final small climb that summited just 5km from the finish. However, when they again hit flat roads, they failed to get any closer to Cancellara who had plenty of time to celebrate his win.

 

Instead of fighting for the win, the pre-race favourites had to sprint for second and like yesterday it was Michal Kwiatkowski coming out on top. The Pole beat Tiesj Benoot, yesterday’s winner Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) and defending champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) to pick up another runner-up spot in his second race for Team Sky.

 

Moreno won the combination classification, van Zyl won the sprints competition, Vervaeke was the best climber and Izagirre won the special sprint competition.

 

The Challenge Mallorca comes to a conclusion tomorrow when the riders tackle the Trofeo Palma. It is a mostly flat race that includes a late category 3 climb but as the race ends with two laps of a flat 1km circuit in Palma, the sprinters are expected to come to the fore.

 

The hardest race

After yesterday’s first taste of the hills, it was time for the hardest race of the Challenge Mallorca when the riders tackled the Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana which brought them over 143.9km from Soller to Deia. Right from the start, the riders hit the bottom of the category 2 Col de Soller and from there they had to tackle another three category 2 and three category 3 climbs on a day full of ups and downs. The main challenge were the category 2 Coll de sa Batella and Coll de Puig Major that summited with 41.3km and 24.8km to go respectively. After a long descent, the categort 3 Coll den Bleda was the final challenge, leading to the rolling final 5.2km.

 

It was another excellent sunny day when 161 riders headed out for their neutral ride in Mallorca. Four riders were absent as Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal), Martin Kohler (Roth), Ralf Matzka (Bora-Argon 18) and Eneko Lizarralde (Euskadi) didn’t take the start.

 

Berhane takes off

With the Coll de Soller coming right from the start, the scene was set for an aggressive beginning and it was Natnael Berhane (Dimension Data) who kicked off the attacking. The Eritrean was the first rider to crest the summit, followed by Albert Torres (Spain), Benat Intxausti (Sky), Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal), Laurens De Plus (Etixx-QuickStep) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal).

 

An Etixx-QuickStep rider was involved in a small crash on the descent as the peloton was chasing the attacker. The tough start had taken its toll and Roman Kustadinchev (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Dominik Merseburg, Meron Teshome, Daniel Bichlmann, Fabian Schnapka (Stradalli) and Andrey Sazanov (GM Europa) already abandoned at this early point.

 

A dangerous group

Berhane was unable to stay clear and it was a 30-rider front group that gathered in the valley. The Spanish team set the pace in the group while a second peloton was chasing just 11 seconds behind.

 

Johann van Zyl (Dimension Data) beat Toms Skujins (Cannondale) and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) in the first intermediate sprint before the riders hit the Coll de Valldemossa. Here Bart De Clercq (Lotto Soudal) launched a strong attack and he was joined by Larry Warbasse (IAM), Ibai Salas (Burgos), Riccardo Zoidl (Trek), Nico Brungger (Roth), Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data), Javier Moreno (Movistar), Angel Madrazo (Caja Rural), Skujins, Nicolas Roche (Sky), Laurens De Plus (Etixx-QuickStep), Jesus Del Pinot (Burgos) and Marcos Jurado (Spain) to form a promising move.

 

A big break is formed

The peloton had no intention to let that dangerous move stay clear and while Ivan Balykin (GM) and Lorrenzo Manzin (FDJ) abandoned and Torres fought his way back from a mechanical, they brought it back. Instead, it was a 20-rider breakaway that formed and slowly built a 33-second advantage as they climbed to the top of Coll den Claret where Adria Moreno (Spain) led Mikel Bizkarra (Euskadi), Sergey Firsanov (Rusvelo) and Scott Davies (Great Britain), over the top. That quartet was joined by Dayer Quintana (Movistar), Stefan Denifl (IAM), Matti Breschel (Cannondale), Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal), Garikoits Bravo (Euskadi), Cancellara, David Belda (Burgos), Benat Intxausti (Sky), Tao Geoghegan-Hart (Great Britain), Ion Izagirre (Movistar), David Lopez (Sky), Teklehaimanot, Cancellara, Kirill Sveshnikov (Gazprom-Rusvelo), De Clercq, Pablo Torres (Burgos) and Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural).

 

The gap went out to 1.02 but Caja Rural were not content with the situation and started to chase. While Izagirre beat Geoghegan-Hart and Davies in the first special sprint, they slowly reduced the gap to 40 seconds.

 

Madrazo bridges the gap

The Spanish team was not slowing down and had the break in sight in the only flat part of the race. The gap came down to 13 seconds but the break refused to give up and hit the Coll d’Honor with an advantage of 19 seconds.

 

On the climb, Caja Rural played their next card as Madrazo jumped across to the leaders and as the Spanish team stopped their work, the gap started to group. It went out to 47 seconds when an impressive Albert Torres bridged across on his home roads.

 

Sky lead the chase

While Sergey Nikolaev (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Oscar Pelegrin (Spain), Ramunas Navardauskas and Alan Marangoni (Cannondale) left the race, the gap continued to grow and it was 2.25 when Torres beat Bizkarra, Firsanov, Breschel, Quintana and Denifl in the KOM sprint. As they went down the descent, it even reached a maximum of 2.45 before the peloton reacted.

 

Sky and Bora-Argon 18 started to chase and when Moreno beat Firsanov and Torres in the second intermediate sprint, they had reduced it to 1.50. Despite the British team doing most of the work, they had a hard time though and when Moreno beat Breschel and Sveshnikov in the next intermediate sprint, the gap was again 2.20.

 

Vervaeke takes off

The riders hit the Coll de sa Batella where the break splintered. Pablo and Albert Torres, Denifl, Breschel, Moreno and Quintana were among the many riders to lose contact.

 

Vervaeke launched a brave solo attack and quickly put 40 seconds into his chasers, with the peloton following at 2.24. He was first at the top of the climb, followed by Sveshnikov, De Clercq, Geoghegan-Hart, Izagirre and Lopez.

 

Cancellara in the mix

The peloton accelerated in the final part of the climb and created a big selection while they brought escapees back, including Moreno and Quintana. Meanwhile, Vervaeke was losing ground and now only had 17 seconds on the chasers, with the peloton at 1.36.

 

There had been several attacks from the main group and the situation had changed as riders had bridged across and other had been dropped. One kilometre from the top of the Puig Major, Vervaeke was caught by Intxausti, Izagirre and David Belda (Roth) and there were chased by a 9-rider group with Cancellara, De Clercq and Firsanov now in the mix. The Belgian lead Intxausti, Izagirre, Belda, Firsanov and Cancellara over the top

 

Cancellara makes his move

Movistar and Sky led the chase of the 30-rider peloton on the descent when the gaps were just 15 and 50 seconds respectively. The two front group merged and they entered the final 18km with a 42-second advantage.

 

That’s where Cancellara made his move and he quickly put 38 seconds into his chasers, with the peloton following at 1.10. As they hit the Coll den Bleda, the chasers were caught and Cancellara had 50 seconds.

 

Sky chase hard

Alejandro Valverde (Movitar) chased hard in the next group but the gap stayed at around 50 seconds for a long time. Impressively, it was even the Trek-Segafredo rider increasing the gap which was 58 seconds as he approached the finish.

 

When Sky came to the fore, Cancellara started to lose ground and with 5km to go, he only had 30 seconds on a 10-rider chase group that had formed on the climb. Lars Petter Nordhaug, Intxausti, Leopold König, Michal Kwiatkowski were there for the British team and were joined by Tiesj Benoot, Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Gianluca Brambilla, Maxime Bouet (Etixx-QuickStep), Merhawi Kudus, Kanstantsin Siutsou, Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Paul Voss (Bora-Argon 18), Carthy, Jose Herrada, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis).

 

Cancellara reached the top of the climb while Intxausti, Brambilla and Kudus were first from the chasers who were losing momentum. With 4km to go, the gap was still 29 seconds and when Cancellara passed the flamme rouge with a 32-second advantage, it was clear that he would take the win. He had plenty of time to celebrate his achievement before Kwiatkowski beat Benoot, Brambilla and Valverde in the sprint for second 19 seconds later.

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