Nicola Ruffoni continued the excellent Tour of Austria for Bardiani by claiming his second and the teamøs third stage win in the bunch sprint on stage 6 of the race. After his team had worked hard to bring the break back, he beat Daniel Auer (Felbermayr) and Sylwester Janiszewski (Wibatech) in the final fdashn to the line while Jan Hirt (CCC) easily retained the lead.
Going into the Tour of Austria, Bardiani didn’t have too many expectations. The Italian team arrived at the start with a relatively young team and most of them hadn’t raced much recently.
However, the event is developing into a real success story for the Italians. After Nicola Ruffoni took a surprise fourth place in the mountain prologue, they have been on a roll. Ruffoni won the first bunch sprint and yesterday another youngster doubled the tally for the team when Simon Sterbini won the mountain stage to Dobratsch.
Today the team continued its excellent race by winning the final sprint stage of the race. Ruffoni dug deep to make it over two late climbs and then turned out to be in a class of his own in the bunch sprint.
After two tough days in the mountains, it was back into flatter terrain for stage. The 203.9km between Graz and Stegersbach were mostly flat, only had 1969m of climbing and had a completely flat finale. However, the riders reached the top of a category 2 climb at the 145.1km mark and the summit of the category 3 climb of Bernstein with 34.3km to go, meaning that there were some undulations to overcome before the road leveled out.
There were no non-starters when the peloton gathered for a sunny start and like in the previous stages, there were attacks right from the gun. The Tirol team opened the attacking and Antwan Tolhoek (Roompot) was also aggressive. The latter was part of a small 7-rider group that had a 15-second advantage at the 12km mark but the move which included two Roompot and two Adria riders were back in the fold after 18km of racing.
The attacking continued until the 30km mark where six riders managed to get clear. Alessandro Vanotti (Astana) was part of this group but after a long fight, they were brought back too.
It was a brutally fast start and that made it almost impossible to get clear. A Drapac and an Adria Mobil rider briefly escaped but they had no chance either.
Things were still together at the first intermediate sprint after 61km of racing and this allowed Andrea Pasqualon (Roth) to pick up valuable points by beating Delio Fernandez (Delko) and Zsolt Der (Vorarlberg) Twenty kilometres later, the elastic finally snapped when Vanotti, Evgeny Shalunov (Gazprom) and Nick van der Lijke (Roompot) got an advantage and during the next 14km, they built a lead of more than four minutes as the peloton almost came to a standstill.
CCC took control and kept the gap around the 4-minute mark before van der Lijke beat Shalunov and Vanotti in the second intermediate sprint. Then the sprint teams came to the fore as Cofidis and Roth started to work, with Anthony Perez taking some huge turns for the French team.
Van der Lijke also won the final intermediate sprint ahead of Vanotti and Shalunov before the peloton arrived 3.35 later. A little later Vanotti beat van der Lijke and Shalunov in the first KOM sprint.
Bardiani also started to chase in the peloton which was 3.10 behind after 160km racing but they soon stopped again, leaving it to Perez and a Roth rider to do the work. Moments later, the front group hit the final climb where van der Lijke attacked and he reached the top with a one-minute advantage over Vanotti and Shalunov. However, it was mission accomplished for the Italian as he reclaimed the mountains jersey from Jan Hirt.
At the 178km mark, van der Lijke had advantages of 40 seconds and 3.00 respectively but the peloton soon accelerated. With 25km to go, the gap was only 2.20 and it was now Bardiani, Roth and Cofidis working hard.
With 10km to go, the gap was only 20 seconds and moments later it was over for the escapees. Bardiani took control and delivered Ruffoni to his second stage win as the Italian easily held off Daniel Auer (Felbermayr) and Sylwester Janiszewski (Wibatech) in the final dash to the line.
Hirt finished safely in the peloton and so he still lead Guillaume Martin (Wanty) by 1.17. He now just has one final challenge to survive but the final stage will be no parade. The 179.8km stage starts in Bad Tatzmannsdorf and has a tough start as the riders will tackle a category 3 climb right from the drop of the flag. From there, the stage is almost completely flat and only has a total of 1553m of climbing. However, the stage has a nasty sting in its tail as it ends at the top of the Kahlenberg climb, one of the highest points in Vienna. The ascent averages 8% over 3.9km.
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