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The final stage of Volta ao Algarve was one for those with patience. Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) finally stepped on top of the podium after nearly two winless years. Young Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) held his fire until the very end to win his first pro GC atop Alto de Malhao in Portugal Sunday.
“I am very happy because in the past two years I have always been on the attack on this stage and in 2018 I was caught with one kilometer to go, but now I finally managed to finish it off,” said Stybar whose last win was 2017 Czech national championships.
He attacked Soren Kragh Andersen (Sunweb) in the final kilometer to win the five-day race’s final stage. Wout Poels (Team Sky) was third behind Andersen.
Although Andersen didn’t win the stage, and he couldn’t pull back enough time on Pogacar to claim the overall, the 24-year-old will be remembered for his verve on this 173.5km stage that ended with a 2.8km finish climb.
Andersen attacked the penultimate climb of Alto de Vermelhos. Joined by Stybar, he passed nearly all of the riders from the early breakaway.
“I joined that attack because I felt there was a chance of going all the way, as I knew that the up-and-down parcours would favor such an action and make things difficult for the chasers,” said Stybar.
The duo profited from the work of Stybar’s teammate Tim Declercq, who had been in the break. The Belgian put in a strong turn for his Czech compatriot before falling off the pace.
Also, the leaders were briefly joined by breakaway artist Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data), who had bridged up from the peloton that wasn’t far behind. The Brit could not, however, stay with Stybar and Andersen as the climb pitched up.
Only 29 seconds behind the GC leader Pogacar at the start of the day, Andersen was at times the virtual leader on the road.
Pogacar and his UAE team were not about to give the Danish rider too much leash, though.
They rode the front through the valley and onto the base of Alto de Malhao. Then, the 20-year-old Slovenian leader got a bit of help from an unexpected source.
Rival GC rider Enric Mas (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) took it upon himself to cover the attacks that began as the climb got steeper.
Pogacar looked to be in difficulty at times but clawed his way back to the front, using Mas as a pacer to ride into the final kilometer with enough time in hand to defend his overall lead.
Mas ended the day in fourth. Pogacar only ceded 15 seconds to Andersen, finishing sixth.
That gave the 2018 Tour de l’Avenir winner his first pro GC victory, with Andersen second and Poels third at 21 seconds.
“I knew that it would be a difficult day, the stage was raced at high speeds and my direct rivals launched attacks for the overall,” said Pogačar. “I achieved a dream today. And to win a stage race so early in my professional career is hard to believe.”
Pogacar is expected to continue his spring campaign on the white dirt roads of Tuscany at Strade Bianche in Italy March 9. Stybar’s classics season will begin in earnest March 2 at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
“The victory is important because it serves as confirmation of the good winter preparation I’ve had and also a confidence boost,” Stybar added.