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Having been positioned perfectly by van Poppel, Nizzolo emerged as the fastest in a very technical bunch sprint on the first stage of the Tour of Croatia, holding off Cavendish and Dupont; the Italian is the first leader

Photo: ANSA-PERI / Dal Zennaro

GIACOMO NIZZOLO

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MARK CAVENDISH

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TIMOTHY DUPONT

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TOUR OF CROATIA

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TREK - SEGAFREDO

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19.04.2016 @ 16:40 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) proved that he is fully ready to go for a maiden Giro d’Italia stage victory by taking his first win of the season in the first stage of the Tour of Croatia. Having been perfectly positioned by teammate Boy van Poppel in the very technical finale, he held off Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Timothy Dupont (Verandas Willems) in the bunch sprint to open his account and take the first leader’s jersey of the race.

 

It has been a strange start to the season for Giacomo Nizzolo. On one hand, the Italian has clearly been stronger than ever before, riding extremely aggressively in the cobbled classics and finishing an impressive second on the Dubai Tour queen stage. On the other hand, the first win has always eluded him, just as it has often been the case for the rider who is so often second in the bunch sprints.

 

As usual, Nizzolo’s big goal is the Giro d’Italia where he aims for a second consecutive points jersey and a maiden stage win. Today he boosted his confidence significantly by finally opening his 2016 account in a star-studded sprint field on the opening stage of the Tour of Croatia.

 

Nizzolo excels in technical finales and so he found the narrow road, the late turns and the cobbles in Croatia to his liking. After great positioning by Boy van Poppel, he emerged as the fastest in a bunch kick that included big-name sprinters like Mark Cavendish, Andrea Guardini, Matteo Pelucchi and Erik Baska.

 

The second edition of the Tour of Croatia kicked off with an extremely long 235.1km stage that included just 120m of climbing. It was a completely flat northwesterly run along the Croatian-Hungarian border from Osijek to Varazsin where a technical finale with turns with 1km and 300m to go awaited the riders.

 

It was a cloudy and dry day when the riders gathered for the start for their long opener and the many continental teams were keen to show themselves right from the beginning. After a fast start with several attacks, Alexey Kurbatov (Gaszprom-Rusvelo), Matej Drinovec (Adria Mobil), Guillaume Boivin and Guy Sagiv (Cycling Academy Team) managed to escape.

 

In such a long stage, the peloton took it easy and allowed the gap to reach a massive 10 minutes before Sagiv beat his teammate Boivin and Kubarov in the first intermediate sprint.

 

Unsurprisingly, Dimension Data took control, keeping the gap stable for several kilometres. When the gap had dropped to 8 minutes, the chase gradually got more organized and more teams started to arrive at the front.

 

It became a big alliance between the five WorldTour teams as Marcel Aregger (IAM), Jay Thomson (Dimension Data), Juraj Sagan (Tinkoff) Gregory Rast (Trek) and an Astana rider joined forces with Marcin Bialoblocki (ONE), starting to trade pulls on the front and slowly bringing the escapees back. There was no big stress in the peloton which made it easy for Mark Cavendish to rejoin the peloton after a mechanical when the gap had been reduced to 3 minutes.

 

The escapees reacted well to the faster pace and managed to stabilize the situation, keeping the gap at 3 minutes as they entered the final 40km. The fast pace was taking its toll on Drinovic who was skipping several turns.

 

Boivin was clearly the strongest and sensed that he had to do it alone. As they hit the only categorized climb with 35km to go, the Canadian champion made his move, accelerating hard to crest the summit with a small advantage. Kurbatov did his best to follow but the Russian had to surrender.

 

Boivin dug deep and turned out to be impressively strong. Despite the big alliance between the WorldTour teams and ONE, he managed to push his advantage out to 3.45 with 25km to go. The chase was getting more intense and the fight for position heated up but the peloton only slowly started to reduce their deficit.

 

With 20km to go, IAM took control when the gap had been reduced to 2.35 but they soon disappeared again, leaving it just to Thomson and Aregger to set the pace. They brought the three chasers back with 16km to go when Boivin still had an advantage of 1.50.

 

The sprint teams realized the danger and it was three Trek riders who strung out the field with 10km to go. Dimension Data took over with Bernhard Eisel and the gap was now coming down quickly as Boivin was battling a strong headwind.

 

On the 4.9km finishing circuit, Bardiani came to the fore and quickly neutralized an attack from a continental rider. Verandas Willems were next to take charge and they led the peloton across the line just 10 seconds behind Boivin.

 

With 3km to go, it was over for the Canadian champion and it was still Verandas Willems dominating things. They positioned Timothy Dupont perfectly before Dimension Data took over, with Reinardt van Rensburg taking a massive turn.

 

Tinkoff were next to hit the front with Jay McCarthy who tried to position Baska but in the confusing, no one could take control. A Verva rider hit the front at the flamme rouge before Mark Renshaw surged ahead to do the lead-out for Cavendish.

 

Unfortunately, the pair had been split in the finale and it was Nicola Ruffoni (Bardiani) and Nizzolo who were on his wheel, with Cavendish sitting in fourth position. Ruffoni and Nizzolo launched the sprint and after the Trek rider had distanced his compatriot, he comfortably rolled across the line as stage winner as Cavendish could not even try to come around. Dupont had to settle for third.

 

With the win, Nizzolo is the first leader of the race with a 4-second advantage over Cavendish. He has a chance to make it two in a row in stage 2 which is another very long stage at 240km. There are two categorized climbs in a rolling first half but as the final part is mainly flat or descending, another bunch sprint is on the cards.

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