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In his first professional season, Vakoc defies the odds by holding off the Tour de Pologne peloton for his first professional victory; the youg Czech also takes the leader’s jersey in the WorldTour race

Photo: OPQS / Tim De Waele

BORIS VALLÉE

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MICHAEL MATTHEWS

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SOUDAL - QUICK STEP

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TOUR DE POLOGNE

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04.08.2014 @ 17:13 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Petr Vakoc (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) did what most have thought to be impossible when he held off the sprinters in today’s second stage of the Tour de Pologne. Having originally been part of a three-rider breakaway, he dropped his companions and rode solo to the finish where he took his first professional victory and the leader’s jersey in the WorldTour race.

 

In his first seven months in the professional peloton, Petr Vakoc has been riding as a tireless domestique for his Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammates. When he lined up at the WorldTour race Tour de Pologne, nothing suggested that things should be any different in the 7-day event.

 

However, Vakoc defied the expectations when he became a surprise winner of today’s flat second stage of the race. On a day that was set to be one for the sprinters, he made a big coup by holding off the fast finishers by 21 seconds to take his first professional victory and the leader’s jersey in the race.

 

Already yesterday things had indicated that the sprint teams were not very organized and if it hadn’t been for a hailstorm that made the peloton very nervous, the break would probably have stayed away. Nonetheless, everybody apparently expected a straightforward sprint stage in today’s second stage as not many riders showed any interest in joining the early break.

 

Straight from the gun Vakoc escaped with Bartlomiej Matysiak (CCC) and Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz (Poland) but apparently the peloton had learnt their lesson. All day race leader Yauheni Hutarovich kept the gap around the 4-minute mark until they started to tire in the second half of the race.

 

The gap reached 7 minutes with 50km to go but the break seemed to be doomed when the several team started to chase. The gap dwindled rapidly and when Vakoc won the final intermediate sprint 30km from the finish, it seemed that it would be another bunch sprint.

 

Having taken the points, the Czech decided to continue on his own which at the moment seemed to be a bad decision. However, he was surprisingly strong and as most teams decided to save their energy for the lead-out, he managed to maintain a nice advantage and with 12km to go, his advantage was still 2.30.

 

Belkin had done the majority of the work but now several teams hit the panic button. Lotto, Giant-Shimano, Orica-GreenEDGE all started to chase but it was all too late.

 

Vakoc started the final 4.8km lap with an advantage of 1.20 and he only lost 59 seconds. He even had plenty of time to celebrate his surprise victory but rode hard all the way to the line to maximize his time gains.

 

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) narrowly beat Boris Vallee (Lotto Belisol) in the sprint for second and celebrated as if he had won the stage. Apparently, he was not aware of the fact that one lone escapee was still ahead.

 

With the win, Vakoc takes the leader’s jersey off Hutarovich’s shoulders and he goes into the third stage with an advantage of 27 seconds over the Belarusian. He faces another very similar stage as the 174km route is completely flat and looks like one for the sprinters but in this year’s Tour de Pologne, nothing is guaranteed.

 

A long, flat stage

After yesterday’s opener, the 71st Tour de Pologne continued with a stage that was almost an exact copy of the previous one. Again it was a long and flat affair and it brought the riders over 226km from Torun to the Polish capital of Warsaw. There were no categorized climbs on the route that finished with 3 laps of a short 4.8km circuit that was expected to be the scene of a bunch sprint.

 

The 164 remaining riders took the start in cloudy conditions and luckily it had cooled down significantly compared to yesterday. At the start in Torun, the temperature was only 27 degrees.

 

Three riders take off

Most expected another bunch sprint and so it was no surprise that there was no real desire to be part of the early action. Petr Vakoc (OPQS), Bartlomiej Matysiak (CCC) and Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz (Poland) attacked straight from the gun and they were immediately allowed to build a gap.

 

Pierr-Henri Lecuisiner (FDJ) tried to bridge the gap but he never made the junction and fell back to the peloton. When the gap had reached 4 minutes, race leader Yauheni Hutarovich’s Ag2r team took control and they started to stabilize the situation.

 

Ag2r in control

Apparently, Ag2r wants to avoid yesterday chaotic situation where the breakaway gained an advantage of 14 minutes and they have kept the break on a short leash. All day, they have kept them around the 4-minute.

 

The gap recently reached a temporary maximum of 4.20 but with 100km to go, the gap was  again down to 3.50. As forecasted, the heat would again take its toll as it was now 34 degrees in the northern part of Poland.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo react

Gediminas Bagdonas had done the early work for Ag2r and as he received no help, he started to lose ground. With 70km to go, the gap was 5.05 and this prompted Tinkoff-Saxo to contribute to the pace-setting.

 

For a long time, Bruno Pires traded pulls with Bagdonas but it didn’t have the desired on the time gap which continued to grow. While the peloton enjoyed their rider in the sun, the gap has reached more than 6 minutes by the time Vkoc easily beat Matysiak in the first intermediate sprint with 57km to go.

 

The sprint teams kick into action

With 50km to go, the gap was 7.10 and this prompted the sprint teams to launch a reaction. Lampre-Merida put Matteo Bono on the front and moments later Thieey Hupond was also contributing for Giant-Shimano.

 

With 40km to go, first Josh Edmondson (Sky) and later Christian Meier (Orica) also started to work while Bagdonas finally ended his day. The gap was now melting away and when Vakoc again beat Matysiak in the final intermediate sprint 30km from the line, it was down to just 4.15.

 

Vakoc takes off

Having won the sprint, Vakoc decided to continue on his own while the peloton started to get more concentrated, with the big teams gathering near the front. With 20km to go, the gap was down to 3.10 and it seemed that the sprint teams had everything under control.

 

Now the early workers had all blown up and no one was willing to commit more riders to the chase. Instead, Belkin hit the front and for some time Paul Martens and Lars-Petter Nordhaug were the only riders doing any work.

 

Belkin leads the chase

At the first passage of the line, the gap was still 2.40 and David Tanner had now replaced Norhaug on the front. At the end of the first lap, Vakoc had only lost 10 seconds and it seemed that the sprinters had miscalculated their chase.

 

With 9km to go, Giant and Lotto reacted when they asked Tobias Ludvigsson and Pim Ligthart to contribute to the chase. Later Johannes Fröhlinger (Giant) also joined the work and when they approached the penultimate passage of the line, Sam Bewley hit the front for Orica.

 

Vakoc takes a surprise victory

With just 4.8km to go, the gap was still 1.20 and the chasers were now starting to blow up. With less than 2km to go, Rusvelo hit the front but were passed by BMC.

 

While Vakoc celebrated his win, Sebastian Lander led out Thor Hushovd but the Norwegian ran out of steam and instead Matthews and Vallee went head to head in the battle for second, with the Australian mistakenly celebrating his runner-up spot.

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