André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) made sure that he remains unbeaten in the bunch sprints in 2016 when he came out on top in the battle between the fast men at the Trofeo Playa de Palma, the final race of the Challenge Mallorca series. The German benefited from a perfect lead-out to beat season debutant Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) into second while Dylan Page (Roth) was a surprise third.
For the second year in a row, André Greipel is aiming for a slower start to his season as he wants to be fresh for his highlights later in the year. However, after his first races at the Challenge Mallorca, his rivals have reason to worry if his performances on the Balearic Islands are a reflection of a relaxed start.
Greipel was already dominant in the first bunch sprint of his season at the opening race, the Trofeo Felanitx, and today he made it two from two when he also emerged as the fastest in the final race of the series, Trofeo Playa de Palma. Again his Lotto Soudal teammates controlled things all day before delivering their German fastman to the line, with the German beating Nacer Bouhanni into second in the Frenchman’s first race of the year.
However, a late climb with 35km to go had nearly thrown a spanner in the works for Greipel after his team had controlled the three-rider break of Omar Fraile (Dimension Data), Lluis Mas (Caja Rural) and Imanol Estevez (Euskadi) all day. At the bottom of the Coll de Sa Creu, the gap was 1.39 but the breakaway’s odds dropped dramatically when Etixx-QuickStep tried to make the race hard to get rid of the sprinters. The Belgian team put three riders on the front and quickly reduced the gap to less than a minute.
Lots of riders got dropped as Etixx-QuickStep maintained their speed and when they had brought the gap down to 22 seconds, Fraile attacked to lead Estevez and Mas over the top. Meanwhile, riders from Rusvelo and Lokosphinx went down in a small crash.
Fraile and Estevez both crashed on the descent and so the break was neutralized. Instead, a 15-rider group had gone clear on the climb, with an attentive Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) featuring prominently. However, they only had an 8-second advantage and it was back together when they hit the seafront in Palma.
Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) and Sky were among the many riders to attack as Lotto Soudal was still trying to regain control which they finally managed to do. As they tackled the finishing circuit, they put four riders on the front. Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) led Maxime Bouet (Etixx-QuickStep) and his teammate Tiesj Benoot across the line in the final intermediate sprint
A second group was trailing by 37 seconds and so Bora-Argon 18 joined forces with the Belgians. However, most of the peloton soon came back together.
Sky took control and led the peloton for several kilometres before Xavi Canellas (Spain) made his usual attempt to deny the sprinters. It was mission impossible though and he was brought back as Bora-Argon 18, Sky and IAM lined up their trains for the sprint.
With 3km to go, Lotto Soudal proved their superiority and hit the front and again the train of Marcel Sieberg, Jurgen Roelandts and Jens Debusschere did a perfect job to deliver Greipel who held off Nacer Bouhanni, Dylan Page and Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) in the bunch sprint.
Fraile won the mountains competition while Mas won the combinations and sprint competitions. Wellens won the special sprints competition and Estevez was most combative while Albert Torres (Spain) was the best rider from the Balearic Islands.
The race was the final event in the Challenge Mallorca but many riders will stay in Spain where they will line up for the next race on the Iberian Peninsula, the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana which kicks off on Wednesday and runs until Sunday.
One for the sprinters
After two days in the hills, it was back into flatter terrain for the traditional Trofeo Playa de Palma which is now the final race of the four-day Challenge Mallorca. The course brought the riders over 168.5km from Playa de Palma to a spectacular finish on the seafront in Palma. It was a completely flat affair, with the only exception being the category 3 climb of Coll de Sa Creu 35.5km from the finish. However, the race ended with two laps of a flat 11km circuit in the city where the sprinters were expected to shine.
It was a perfect day for a bike race when the 166 riders gathered for the start. One rider was absent as Edward Theuns (Trek) was suffering from a saddle sore.
Three riders get clear
Dimension Data were active right from the start but it didn’t take long for the early break to be formed. The South African team made sure to be resent as Omar Fraile joined forces with his former teammate Lluis Mas (Caja Rural) and Imanol Estevez (Euskadi).
The peloton was content with the situation and so the gap quickly went out to 2 minutes. The peloton was I no hurry though and as the front trio worked well together, they soon got a time check of 6.18.
Lotto Soudal start to chase
After Pablo Torres (Burgos) had gone down in a small crash, the gap reached 7.07 and this was the signal for Lotto Soudal to come to the fore. The Belgian team slowly started to reduce the advantage and soon they got some welcome assistance from Bora-Argon 18.
At the end of the first hour, the riders had covered 41.7km and as Rusvelo was now also chasing, the gap was down to 5.40. At the 54km mark, it was only 5.18 and when Estevez beat Fraile and Mas in the first special sprint, it was 5.05.
The gap comes down
Rusvelo quickly disappeared from the front and instead Movistar came to the fore to lend a hand. The gap came down to around 4.10 and for a long time, it stayed between 4.00 and 4.30.
At the 84km mark, the time check showed exactly four minutes and it was again Rusvelo leading the chase. Meanwhile, Mas beat Estevez and Fraile in the first intermediate sprint.
Lotto Soudal accelerate
As the peloton had now reached the halfway point, Lotto Soudal upped the pace. It had a big effect and as they reached the 99km mark, the escapees only had an advantage of 2.53.
Bora-Argon 18 and Cofidis joined forces with Lotto Soudal and even though the local fans were cheering for Mas, the gap was decreasing rapidly. It was 2.08 at the 108km mark and 1.48 just three kilometres later. Moments later, they hit the climb where Etixx-QuickStep tried to challenge the sprinters but no one was able to prevent Greipel from winning the race.
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