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Pascal Ackermann wins stage 4 of Tour of Poland in big group sprint

Zdenek Štybar caught inside final 200 meters, race leader Sergio Higuita crashes in finale.

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Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates) sprinted to victory on stage 4 of the Tour of Poland on Tuesday, taking a big bunch sprint into Sanok.

The German rider overhauled lone leader Zdeněk Štybar (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) inside the final 200 meters and powered home comfortably ahead of Jordi Meeus (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Jonathan Milan (Bahrain-Victorious).

Ackermann’s success came after a great lead out by his team saw him launch and open a gap of two bike lengths heading into the final bends before the line.

“I was really disappointed that the last time I was here I couldn’t win any stage,” he said. “Now I am finally back and we still have two stages for the sprinters. So why not come back to the victories? In the last times I always won two stages, so let’s try to do it again.”

Race leader Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) was one of several riders who were tangled up in a crash in the finale, but with his fall occurring inside the final three kilometers, the Colombian was able to remount and ride to the line knowing his yellow jersey was safe.

Štybar’s late recapture was a big disappointment for the Czech rider. He last won two and a half years ago and looked poised to triumph, but was undone by a rise inside the final kilometer plus the work of Ackermann’s team.

The stage winner admitted that he had initially not thought he could win.

“Actually yesterday I was thinking today is a rest day for myself,” he said. “But [roommate Davide] Formolo was speaking yesterday evening all the time about the climbs, ‘they are not so steep, maybe it is a chance for you.’ And I just said, ‘no, we don’t speak about cycling any more, I want to sleep.’

“This morning I woke up and I was thinking, okay in the last years, I could manage those climbs. Actually that is what I liked in racing, so I decided this morning let’s try it.

“Luckily Formolo said yesterday, ‘let’s do it.’”

The hilly stage featured an early five-rider breakaway by Anders Skaarseth (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team), Rui Oliveira (UAE Team Emirates), Mads Würtz Schmidt (Israel-Premier Tech), Nans Peters (Ag2r Citroën) and Kamil Malecki (Lotto Soudal).

The latter two were caught with 18 kilometers to go, after which Remi Cavagna (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) and Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma) attacked the peloton and worked hard to bridge. They were mopped up by the bunch with 5.5 km left, while Skaarseth, Oliveira and Würtz Schmidt were absorbed with just over three kilometers left.

Štybar hurtled clear before the junction with Skaarseth was made, and as a big crash behind took down a number of riders including Higuita.

Štybar sped into the final kilometer and looked good for the win, but rising roads took the zip out of his legs and he was swamped just inside the final 200 meters, with Ackermann the one to triumph.

Higuita trailed in over three minutes back in 96th place but held his overnight four-second lead over Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) courtesy of UCI rules regarding incidents inside the final three kilometers.

He said he was hurt but will keep going.

“Now I have much pain in my knee, but we try to recover for tomorrow, to stay good for the stage and the TT [on Thursday],” he said.

“In the right turn I saw one guy of Cofidis crash. I lost control of the bike and I was on the pavement with much pain. But I could finish the stage, and now I will try to recover.”

How it unfolded:

Three brave breakaway riders made it into the closing kilometers of the stage.

Stage 4 of the Polish tour took the riders 179km from Lesko to Sanok, crossing the second category climbs of Gmina Czarna (48.5km), Hotel Arlamow (103.5km), Leszczawa (146.5km) and an uncategorized 615 meter high climb 18.5km from the finish.

With constant undulations throughout the stage, it had the most vertical meters of climbing in this year’s race. This promised a tough day for the sprinters and GC riders alike.

The race began with the Alpecin-Deceuninck team, which withdrew after multiple cases of COVID-19 amongst its support staff. Fortunately the riders themselves had not tested positive.

There were multiple attacks from the start of the stage, with one of those trying to get involved in the action being the breakaway specialist Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal).

With 150km remaining Skaarseth, Oliveira and Würtz Schmidt were clear and being chased by Peters and Malecki. These two groups merged soon afterwards to make it five at the head of affairs.

The Bora-Hansgrohe team of race leader Higuita was amongst those riding to keep the gap manageable.

With the break gradually padding its lead north of three minutes, Malecki led Oliveira and the others across the summit of the category two climb of Czarna Górna, while Würtz Schmidt beat Peters and Skaarseth to the intermediate sprint in Ustrzyki Dolne (72.8km).

That same pattern was replicated on the second category climb of Hotel Arlamów (103.7km), where Malecki again beat Oliveira, and in the intermediate sprint at Gmina Fredropol, where Würtz Schmidt was again best. Malecki then nabbed the top points on the category two ascent of Leszczwa (146.7km), taking over as King of the Mountains from overnight leader Michael Hessmann (Jumbo-Visma).

The bunch had been depleted by all the climbing but still numbered several dozen riders. It was increasing its pace and with 21 kilometers remaining was just 30 seconds back and set on a sprint finish. Peters and Malecki were dropped by the group on the final uncategorized climb, but the other three hammered it down the descent and held a 10-second gap with 14km left.

Cavagna and Teunissen sensed opportunity and leaped clear of the peloton there, collaborating well to try to bridge. However they were still 11 seconds back with 10 km left and were mopped up with 5.5km to go.

The leading three were well within the sights of the bunch by then and were gobbled up with 3.2 km remaining. Skaarseth was last to yield and was passed by an attacking Štybar, who was seeking his first victory in two and a half years.

He looked poised for success but was dramatically overhauled seconds from the line, with Ackermann blitzing the sprint and winning the stage.

Results will be available once stage has completed.

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