Team Sky’s intense desire to win cost them dearly at last year’s Tour of Britain and there are hints that something similar may be brewing a second time around. On one of the toughest stages of the race, through the Brecon Beacons and into south Wales, the Rabobank squad took advantage of the British team’s quest for a stage victory to increase their leader Lars Boom’s overall advantage over Sky’s Geraint Thomas.
A select group of 22 contested the finish outside the sprawling stonework of Caerphilly Castle, with the world champion, Thor Hushovd, taking the sprint from Boom, who earned a six-second time bonus, meaning he is now 12 seconds ahead of Thomas. Another result or two like this and the Dutchman will be out of reach before Sunday’s final time trial in London.
Late on, before the race sped past the statue of Tommy Cooper in the main street and over the final climb of the day, Sky were prominent in the chase behind the day’s three-man escape. The move included the former British national champion Kristian House of the Rapha-Condor-Sharp team, and they had gained five minutes as the race headed south through the Welsh Marches, making House race leader on the road. Rabobank led the chase but did so in the knowledge that Sky would have to contribute.
“We gave the break five minutes and we knew Sky would chase because Geraint Thomas lives here and we knew he wanted to win,” said Boom, a former world cyclo-cross champion whose victory list includes the Tour of Belgium and the Olympia Tour of Holland. “That was in our heads and we knew they would try something on the climb.”
“We wanted to test Lars out,” said Thomas, whose team-mate Steve Cummings put on the pressure on the final climb, to no avail. “I was hoping to distance him a bit but he’s as good as me.” Thomas was then unlucky in the finish sprint, where Hushovd nipped into the final, tightly angled corner just ahead of him to take a win that bodes well for the defence of his title at the end of next week.
On that note one of the men who is looking to succeed the Bull from Grimstad as holder of the rainbow jersey, Mark Cavendish, was unable to hold the pace on the final climb, losing 31 seconds and with it, most probably, any realistic chance of regaining the gold jersey. The comment on the Manxman’s Twitter feed afterwards was as pithy as might have been expected.
The overall standings resemble a Venn diagram, with the intersecting central section consisting of the 13 men who figured in the front group on both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s stages. Ten of them are level on time, 19 seconds behind Boom, with Thomas at 12sec and another Dutchman Boy van Poppel – son of the former top sprinter Jean Paul van Poppel – at 14sec. All of which leaves the race delicately poised going into the two hilly West Country stages; Dartmoor and mid-Devon on Thursday, the Mendips on Friday.
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