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The Dutch TT specialist Clement makes it into a 9-rider breakaway that manages to stay away from the peloton and makes a solo bid for glory inside the final 2km; Rodriguez defends his lead with one stage remaining

Photo: Belkin Pro Cycling Team

JOAQUIM RODRIGUEZ OLIVER

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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PIETER SERRY

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STEF CLEMENT

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TEAM LOTTONL-JUMBO

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VOLTA A CATALUNYA

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29.03.2014 @ 17:26 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Stef Clement (Belkin) took a very rare road race win when the TT specialist emerged as the strongest and smartest from a 9-rider breakaway that stayed away to the finish in today's penultimate stage of the Volta a Catalunya. With several team starting their chase effort way too late, the escapees got the chance to decide the stage win and Clement timed his attack inside the final 2km to perfection while Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) defended his overall lead on the eve of the final stage.

 

Stef Clement is known as the loyal Belkin domestique who sacrifices his own chances for his team leaders and gets his own opportunities in the time trials. In the Volta a Catalunya, however, he has got a rare opening to chase success from breakaways and today it paid off with the biggest win of his career.

 

Clement made it into a 9-rider breakaway on the easiest stage of the 7-day race but most would have their money on a bunch sprint in the stage that had a downhill run to the finish in Vilanova i la Geltru. However, the escapees formed a very strong and cohesive unit and when the Giant-Shimano team of triple stage winner Luka Mezgez had to do all the work in the peloton, the peloton missed an opportunity to sprint for the win.

 

When Lampre-Merida and Lotto Belisol finally decided to join the efforts, Giant-Shimano had already spent their final riders and so it was way too late for them to bring back the break that continued several strong rouleurs. Ag2r also lend a hand in the finale but the escapees knew that they could now start the game of cat and mouse.

 

Breakaway specialist Jens Voigt (Trek) was the first to give it a go but he didn't have any success and from there several attacks were launched. However, no one had the luck to escape and it seemed that we were heading for a 9-rider sprint when Clement gave it a go inside the final 2km.

 

This time no one reacted and the Dutchman quickly built up a big gap. Due to his strong TT skills, he managed to stay clear to the finish, holding a 3-second gap when he crossed the line.

 

Pieter Serry (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) - on paper the fastest rider in the group - made a late bid for glory as he chased hard inside the final kilometre but it was too late. He paid for his efforts in the sprint for 2nd as Rudy Molard (Cofidis) passed him to be the best of the rest behind Clement.

 

Despite some nervousness due to the windy conditions, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) got safely through the day and so he takes his 4-second lead over Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) into tomorrow's final stage. The race ends with a short stage starting and finishing in Barcelona and finishes with 8 laps on a difficult circuit that contains the famous Montjuic climb. This will be the final opportunity to take back time from the race leader and with the stage being an unpredictable affair, it should be the scene of some very aggressive racing.

 

The easiest stage

The Volta a Catalunya is a very hilly race but the penultimate stage of the race was a rather flat affair that seemed to offer the sprinters a great chance to shine. The stage brought the riders over 172km from El Vendrell on the coast into the rolling hinterland and back to a finish on the coast in Vilanova i al Geltru. The stage had some rolling terrain but only a single category 3 climb at the midpoint and a downhill finish made it look like one for the fast finishers.

 

Nonetheless, many riders were keen to give it a go in the early part of the stage after the race had taken off in 18-degree temperatures with two non-starters, Cameron Wurf (Canondale) and Pawel Poljanski (Tinkoff-Saxo). Not many teams were confident that they could beat triple stage winner Mezgec in a sprint and so they tried to send riders up the road.

 

A 9-rider group

The many attacks made the start a fast one but after 8km the right group was formed when 9 riders had built up a 20-second advantage. Pieter Serry (OPQS), Stef Clement (Belkin), Damien Howson (Orica-GreenEDGE), Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Jens Voigt (Trek), Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural), Marek Rutkiewicz (CCC), Rudy Molard (Cofidis), and Nico Sijmens (Wanty) took off but were only slowly allowed to build up a gap.

 

On the front of the peloton, Katusha, Tinkoff-Saxo, Sky and Cannondale took turns on the front but didn't seem overly concerned with the advantage that continued to grow. At the 24km mark it was 2.40 and when Molard beat Sijmens and Voigt in the first intermediate sprint, it was 3.46.

 

Giant-Shimano start to chase

The gap reached 4 minutes at the 42km mark but now it was time for Mezgec's Giant-Shimano team to kick into the action. The Dutch team combined forces with Katusha on the front to keep the gap stable just below the 4-minute mark for a long time.

 

Surprisingly, Movistar decided to lend Giant-Shimano a hand and their effort started to reduce the gap. At the 65km mark, it had fallen to 3.15. However, the harder terrain at the midpoint of the stage seemed to suit the escapees better and they started to reopen their advantage to 4.15 after 85km of racing.

 

Giant-Shimano work hard

While it was announced that Mikel Nieve (Sky) had abandoned the race, Giant-Shimano were still chasing hard but with 50km to go, the gap was still 4.05. Tom Peterson and Thomas Damuseau swapped turns on the front for the Dutch team but they failed to get any close to the front group which worked excellently together.

 

Clement took maximum points ahead of Voigt and Molard on the day's only climb to extend his lead in the mountains classification while the escapees could now start to realistically hope for a stage win. However, the chase got some impetus with 50km to go when Omega Pharma-Quick Step made an attack in the crosswind that briefly split the peloton into two big groups.

 

A nervous peloton

The Belgian team quickly stopped their action but GC teams like BMC, Tinkoff-Saxo, Katusha and Movistar were now very nervous and patrolled the front for a little while. As things calmed down and came back together, Peterson and Damuseau went back to work though, with the gap being 3.45.

 

The escapees chose not to contest the Miguel Poblet and final intermediate sprint, with Piedra and Clement taking maximum points respectively. Giant weren't getting any closer but with 39km to go they got some assistance from Lampre-Merida who put Jose Serpa and Kristijan Durasek on the front.

 

More teams start to chase

The Italian team later added Winner Anacona to the chase while Lotto Belisol asked Boris Vallee to do some work. However, Giant-Shimano had now stopped chasing, leaving it to Lampre and Lotto to lead the chase.

 

Despite their efforts, the gap hovered around 3.20 for some time but inside the final 25km, the escapees started to think about the finale and this caused the gap to come down. With the gap down to 2.30 15km from the finish, Giant briefly went back to work but they stopped shortly after.

 

Voigt opens the attacking

With 10km to go, it was only 1.30 and Ag2r had now also added a rider to the chase. Up ahead, Voigt opened the attacking and he was joined by Sijmens and Rolland before being brought back.

 

This opened a very aggressive phase where several riders tried their hand. Rolland was the next to make a move and Piedra and Molard also made attacks.

 

No help for Lampre

In the peloton, all the work was now left to Lampre but as the gap was still 1.10 with 5km to go, it was clear that there was no coming back. Rolland was particularly active in the front group but the Europcar rider didn't have much luck.

 

When Serry made an attack inside the final 4km and was joined by Howson, it seemed that the right group had taken off. Sijmens and later Voigt joined from behind but inside the final 4km, it was back together.

 

Clement makes his move

Molard, Piedra and Serry all tried unsuccessful attacks before Clement made the right one inside the final 2km. When he accelerated, no one responded and he quickly got a solid gap.

 

For a short while, Piedra was off in pursuit but when Serry made one final desperate attempt to get back, he was swallowed up. The Belgian led almost all the way to the line but it was too late as Clement took a beautiful solo win. Molard came around Serry to take 2nd while Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Belisol) won the peloton's sprint 55 seconds behind Clement.

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