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In a crash-marred and slippery finale, Hutarovich was a constant presence near the front before he powered clear of his fellow sprinters to take his first WorldTour win since 2010

Photo: Sirotti

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YAUHENI HUTAROVICH

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03.08.2014 @ 19:51 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Yauheni Hutarovich (Ag2r) put several disappointing seasons behind him when he won today’s crash-marred opening stage of the Tour de Pologne in a bunch sprint. In a chaotic and slippery finale, the Belarusian managed to avoid the carnage and swiftly moved onto Roman Maikin’s wheel when the Rusvelo rider was given the perfect lead-out before powering clear for his first WorldTour win since 2010 and the first leader’s jersey of the race.

 

When he first emerged on the professional scene, Yauheni Hutarovich was regarded as one of the biggest sprinting talents and his future looked bright when he won a stage of the 2010 Vuelta a Espana. Since then nothing has gone according to plan for the Belarusian whose progress has stalled dramatically.

 

He joined Ag2r for the 2013 season but the new surroundings didn’t change his fortunes. In fact, he failed to win a single race in his first year with the French team which is definitely not a pleasant situation for sprinter.

 

This year things have started to look brighter for Hutarovich as he won the GP de la Somme in late April but today he finally returned to the level where he belongs when he won the first stage of the Tour de Pologne to take his first WorldTour win since that Vuelta victory 4 years ago. The Belarusian showed his intentions all day as he was a constant presence near the front of the peloton on a day when rainy and very slippery conditions made many riders choose to stay further back to avoid the carnage.

 

However, it could all have come to nothing for Hutarovich as the sprint teams were involved in a fierce tactical battle that almost made the early break stay away to the finish. Giant-Shimano did the early work but as they only got a little help from Garmin and Sky, they stopped their effort.

 

At one point, the peloton completely slowed down but when the race was hit by a dramatic hailstorm with very strong winds, things got very nervous. This prompted the GC teams to hit the front and keep their captains safe and as a consequence, the pace went up.

 

As the roads were extremely slippery, the race was marred by several big crashes and this forced Tinkoff-Saxo into action. To keep Rafal Majka safe, the Russian team did all the work in the final 40km and only inside the final 3km did Giant-Shimano go back to work to shut down Maciej Paterski (CCC) who was the last standing escapee, and Peter Velits (BMC) who had made a dangerous move.

 

In the end, the Dutch team ran out of manpower and instead Rusvelo gave Roman Maikin the perfect lead-out. While Giant sprinter Luka Mezgec hit the deck as he tried to get back into position, Hutarovich moved onto Maikin’s wheel and from there he easily passed the Russian to take the win and the first leader’s jersey in the race. Manuele Mori (Lampre-Merida) was a surprise third.

 

Hutarovich will get another chance to add to his lead in tomorrow’s second stage which is another very long, flat affair. After 226km, the stage ends in the Polish capital of Warsaw where the sprinters are again expected to rule.

 

A long, flat stage

The 71st Tour de Pologne kicked off with a long, flat stage that brought the riders over 226km from Gdansk to Bydgoszsz. During the stage, there was very little elevation difference, meaning that the riders were expected to shine. In the finale, a strong crosswind was expected but as the stage finished with 3 laps of a 7.2km finishing circuit in Bydgoszsz, there was time for a regrouping to take place.

 

167 riders took the start in sweltering hot conditions as the thermometer in Gdansk showed 31 degrees. Right from the start, Kamil Gradek (Poland) launched the first attack and he was joined by Maciej Paterski (CCC), Matthias Krizek (Cannondale), Jimmy Engoulvent (Europcar) and Anton Vorobyev (Katusha) to form the day’s early break.

 

First withdrawals

Krizek won the first special sprint that came already after 2.5km of racing while the peloton decided to take it very easy in the hot, windy conditions. While FDJ set a leisurely pace on the front of the peloton, the gap reached a massive 13.10 at the 40km mark.

 

Lampre-Merida sprinter Niccolo Bonifazio and Lotto Belisol GC rider Sander Armee were the first two riders to abandon the race while Astana helped FDJ take control of the situation. Gradek won the second special sprint after 47km of racing when the gap had reached a massive 14 minutes.

 

A massive gap

It even reached 14.40 before one of the sprint teams started to chase. Giant-Shimano upped the pace and by the time they reached the first intermediate sprint with bonus seconds on offer, the gap had been reduced to 11.40. Here Gradek beat Paterski and Engoulvent to secure himself 3 seconds that could potentially lift him into the overall top 10 at the end of the stage.

 

The gap stayed around the 11.30 mark for a little while but then peloton again accelerated. With less than 100km remaining, it was down to 10.00 and it had now cooled down a bit as the temperature was only 35 degrees.

 

A tactical game

Giant-Shimano got a bit of assistance from Garmin-Sharp and Sky but the British team soon stopped their work. Instead, Thierry Hupond and Andre Cardoso were the only riders contributing to the pace-setting and they managed to bring the gap down to a little less than 8 minutes.

 

With 66km to go, Giant-Shimano gave up which caused the peloton to slow down completely. After a small lull, Salvatore Puccio hit the front for Sky and the Italian single-handedly avoided that the situation got out of control.

 

Dramatic hailstorm

With 57km to go, Puccio stopped his work and this forced Tinkoff-Saxo into action. To keep Majka’s GC options alive, the Russian team put Nicki Sørensen and Rory Sutherland on the front and they started to chip away at the lead.

 

Engoulvent beat Krizek and Gradek in the final intermediate sprint to score a few bonus seconds and soon after they hit a hailstorm. The strong winds split the group completely, with Engoulvent and Vorobyev dropping their companions.

 

A big crash

When things got back to normal, the two front groups merged but now the peloton was extremely nervous. While all the GC riders wanted to stay near the front, a big crash brought down several riders, including Janez Brajkovic (Astana) who seemed to be badly hurt.

 

With 45km to go, the peloton calmed down a bit and Tinkoff-Saxo again took over the pace-setting with Sørensen and Sutherland. With 35km to go, they had brought the gap down to 3.40 and the situation was again under control.

 

Tinkoff in control

With 30km to go, OPQS briefly contributed to the pace-setting but they quickly left it to Sutherland and Sørensen who got a bit of assistance from teammates Pawel Poljanski and Evgeny Petrov. Meanwhile, the escapees had now passed the finish line for the first time and started to attack each other.

 

Gradek made the first move but it was the subsequent attack from Krizek that worked. Engoulvent was glued to his wheel and after a little while Paterski and Vorobyev also rejoined the group while Gradek fell off the pace.

 

Paterski takes the points

With 21km to go, all four escapees hit the deck in a very slippery turn and Paterski was faster than his rivals to remount. The Pole opened a gap over Engoulvent and Krizek while Vorobyev fell back to the peloton.

 

In the same corner, Kenny Dehaes (Lotto) was one of a few riders to hit the deck while up ahead Paterski fought hard to stay clear until he had won the day’s only KOM sprint. Just before the next passage of the line, he was caught by his chasers and a chase trio was again formed.

 

Paterski attacks again

Tinkoff-Saxo were still leading the peloton and when they crossed the line to start the final lap, they had brought the gap down to 20 seconds. Two riders from the Polish national team made a small attack but were quickly brought back.

 

With 5km to go, Paterski attacked again and he opened a solid advantage over his companions. Another crash brought down the Sky pair of Kanstantsin Siutsou and Puccio while Tinkoff-Saxo still set the pace.

 

With 2km to go, the chasers were caught and now Giant-Shimano hit the front. However, Velits launched a brave attack and passed Paterski at the top of the small climb before making a U-turn to head back towards the finish.

 

Giant were now in full pursuit to catch the Slovakian with 500m to go. Just at that moment, Rusvelo launched their lead-out and so brought Hutarovich into the perfect position for the sprint.

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