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Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates) claimed victory on stage 4 of the Tour de Pologne, sprinting past late attacker Zdenek Štybar (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) on the drag to the finish in Sanok.
The German survived the climbs on a stage that accrued nearly 3000 meters of elevation gain and still had enough left to unleash a resounding acceleration on the nasty drag to the line in the final 200 meters.
Jordi Meeus (Bora-Hansgrohe) placed second, with Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious) third as they swept past a fading Štybar.
Race leader Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) crashed on the run-in but finished the stage and, given the incident occurred within the final 3km, he was awarded the same time as the main bunch and retained his overall lead.
The stage was another typical Tour de Pologne affair, a constantly undulating day in the saddle where the elevation gain racked up but the in-form sprinters always stood a chance. The category 2 climb of Leszczawa topped out 33km from the line and was followed by a similar but uncategorised ascent 19km from the line, but neither saw any attacks.
Instead, the thinned bunch set about reeling in the day’s breakaway, and things were all geared up for a bunch sprint until Štybar threw the cat among the pigeons with an attack just as the catch was being made with 3.5km to go.
A lull in the bunch allowed him to open a 10-second advantage and his cause was aided by the late crash with 1.8km to go, which brought down race leader Higuita as well as a number of Ineos Grenadiers riders, who’d been chasing to try and set up Ethan Hayter.
Štybar took 10 seconds into the final kilometer and looked good with 300 meters to go, but then the road started to ramp up and he quickly faded. Behind, Juan Sebastian Molano produced an excellent lead out to put Ackermann in the armchair, the Colombian taking the reduced bunch past Štybar with 175 meters to go.
Ackermann opened up through a right-hand bend with just under 150 meters to go and led through another bend as the road narrowed in the final straight to finish the job and claim his second win of the season.
Milan made a big effort on the left-hand side of the road to latch onto the UAE lead out but took the final bend wide, allowing Meeus to cut through on the inside to snatch second place.
How it unfolded
The 179.4km stage started out with a false flat and then ramped up for a quartet of short inclines ahead of the first three categorized climbs but plenty more of the uncategorised variety.
In the early phases, a five-man breakaway went up the road, containing: Nans Peters (AG2R Citroën), Kamil Malecki (Lotto Soudal), Mads Würtz Schmidt (Israel-Premier Tech), Rui Oliveira (UAE Team Emirates), and Andreas Skaarseth (Uno-X Pro Cycling).
They built a lead of five minutes over the peloton, where Bora-Hansgrohe did the early controlling for Higuita.
The first categorized climb came at Czarna Górą just inside the 50km mark, where Malecki claimed maximum mountains points. After another rolling 50km, in which Schmidt claimed the first intermediate sprint, the second climb came at Hotel Arlamow, where Malecki added to his lead.
The situation repeated itself as Schmidt claimed the intermediate sprint at the bottom of the subsequent descent and, after an uncategorised climb, Malecki made it three from three on the final categorized climb at Leszczawa, earning him the mountains jersey for stage 5.
At that point, the breakaway had a lead of 1:30 over a peloton that was still at near full capacity. After a short descent, the race would heat up on the final uncategorised climb, where Ineos Grenadiers took charge in the peloton. Up front, the breakaway split, with Malecki and Peters falling away.
The remaining three – Oliveira, Schmidt, Skaarseth – reached the top just 20 seconds in front. At the end of the descent, Rémi Cavagna (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) launched a speculative attack from the peloton and was joined by Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-VIsma). At first, it seemed as though they would breeze across the 15-second gap, but the breakaway held firm in impressive fashion, and never let the pair in.
With 5.5km to go, Cavagna and Teunissen had to retire, and the same fate befell the breakaway trio with 3.5km to go. At that point, Štybar looked to launch QuickStep’s second speculative attack, and it looked like he was on his way to glory. Had the road remained flat, he might have held on, but it kicked up cruelly and the fresher riders came roaring past, with Ackermann the quickest and best-piloted of the lot.
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