Lars Boom retained the overall lead of the OVO Energy Tour of Britain heading into the final day to Cardiff, surviving an explosive day of racing through the Cotswolds to Cheltenham as his teammate Dylan Groenewegen took the stage win.
Groenewegen outsprinted triple stage winner Caleb Ewan and Brenton Jones but it was only thanks to the hard work of his Lotto NL Jumbo team that the race had come back together for the sprint alongside Cheltenham’s Imperial Gardens having resisted attacks from general classification contenders Tony Martin, Alex Dowsett, Edvald Boasson Hagen among others, the latter of whom was caught within the final 1,500-metres.
“The stage was very hard but I survived it. It was a little bit freestyle sprint so I used Caleb Ewan’s wheel and Gaviria’s”, said Groenwegen afterwards, who won Stage Four in 2016 at the Royal Welsh Showground.
“He [Ewan] is in great form so it’s really good that I could beat him. After the Tour de France I was a little bit tired, but I think the form is good so it’s good for morale.”
After a start under clear blue skies in Hemel Hempstead, the race exploded into life – as did the rain clouds – with an aggressive start to the stage and Cannondale Drapac in particular making several attempts to put riders up the road.
In the end two groups of three riders went away, but with neither a threat to the overall they were allowed to merge and build a four-minute plus lead, with Jacob Scott extending his SKODA King of the Mountains lead as a result.
With the race entering the Cotwolds and the gap just over the three minute mark, Tiago Machado sparked the attacking, going clear of the peloton but not quite making it to the leading six.
Behind him a strong five-rider group made an attempt to work their way across, including his Katusha Alpecin teammate Reto Hollenstein, Michal Kwiatkowski, Sylvian Diller, Ryan Mullen and Dowsett. The five got 30-seconds clear of the peloton, but with Lotto NL Jumbo alert to the threat to Boom’s lead began to work hard bringing the whole race back together.
This immediately spurred another Katusha Alpecin into action, with World Time Trial Champion Tony Martin driving clear in heavy rain on an impressive, and sustained, solo effort, but one that was ultimately doomed under the Lotto pressure.
With everyone back together the intermediate Eisberg Sprint at Winchcombe became the new general classification battleground, with BMC’s Stefan Küng grabbing the bonus seconds to elevate him into second overall – between Boom and teammate Victor Campenaerts – while Mark McNally took two points to leap him over Graham Briggs and into the Eisberg Sprints jersey.
On the day’s final SKODA King of the Mountains climb at Cleeve Hill, topping out with less than 10-kilometres remaining five riders went clear including former winners Boasson Hagen and Dylan Van Baarle.
Van Baarle then crashed out on the descent, obstructing Laurens De Plus and leaving Dion Smith, Gorka Izagirre and Boasson Hagen out front. With the teams of the sprinters sensing the chance of success again – that earlier in the day had seemed highly unlikely – they came to the front on the final five kilometres in Cheltenham, reeling the trio in just before the final kilometre arch.
“It was quite a hectic start but we controlled it quite well,” said Boom after the stage, praising the work throughout the day of this team. “It was a good situation for us, Gijs van Hoecke and Primoz Roglic controlled the bunch quite well.
“We never had any problems except a small problem with 30, 40 kilometres to go when the group with Dowsett and Kwiato went. I did not react straightaway and Campenaerts had to pull on the front.
“There was a small breakaway with Boasson Hagen, which was a bit critical, but I went full downhill to try and keep the gap as small as possible and then the sprinters teams took over.
“The main goal was to not allow Boasson Hagen and Kwiato to take seconds as tomorrow if you take all of the seconds – there are 19-seconds in total available if you’re lucky. But now we are a little bit more comfortable so it’ll be a good day tomorrow.”
Heading towards Wales and the final stage Boom leads overall by eight-seconds from Küng, with teammate Campenaerts and Vasil Kiryienka each a further second behind. Geraint Thomas is the best placed Brit and leader of the Adnams classification heading to his home city of Cardiff in ninth, 20-seconds back.
The final stage of the OVO Energy Tour of Britain sees the peloton racing from Worcester to Cardiff, heading through Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and Newport before the finish on King Edward VII Avenue in Cardiff. The 180-kilometre stage concludes with three-laps of a city centre circuit in Cardiff taking in the city’s most iconic sights.