Giro d'Italia history repeated itself for Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates) on Tuesday as he fended off a peloton of favourites to claim the race's first mountaintop stage win, for the second time in three years.
In 2015, Polanc, then riding for Lampre, won alone at the summit of the Abetone on stage 5 after a long breakaway. This time, en route to Mount Etna, he attacked out of the pack after just two kilometres along with Eugenio Alafaci (Trek-Segafredo), Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (Dimension Data) and Pavel Brutt (Gazprom-Rusvelo).
Polanc shed his last companion, Van Rensburg, at the foot of the stage 4 finishing climb and began to solo all the way to the line with a four-minute lead. By the summit, after some points where he was weaving so badly that it almost looked as if he would crack completely, his gap on counter-attacker Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) was down to 19 seconds. But it was enough of a gap for the Slovenian to claim the second professional win of his four-year career: both wins were in the Giro d'Italia and Tuesday's was the first Grand Tour success for his new sponsor.
Polanc's relationship with his current team UAE Emirates is a long one, however, going all the way back to the end of 2011, when the squad, then sponsored by Lampre, signed a pre-contract with him. Polanc had impressed in his first year as an under-23 with the Radenska team, a squad coached by a Lampre alumnus, 2000 Worlds bronze medallist Andrej Hauptman. At the end of 2013, Polanc turned pro.
"There were only four of us in the breakaway, and I saw the other guys were on the limit by the foot of the climb," Polanc, who turned 25 three days ago, commented. "I got into my pace, but although it wasn't too hard to drop the other guys, it was much trickier to hold that gap."
He had targetted this particular stage when he came to Etna in a pre-season training camp, and they had done a reconnaissance of Tuesday's final climb. "It was harder than at Abetone, the climb was more steady and it was windier too. But I won in a very similar way to 2015," he said.
In the final kilometre, with Zakarin fast bearing down on him, "I wasn't thinking about anything anymore, just that I was close to finishing and that every second counted." At the end, though, Polanc had just enough time in the bag to roll back the years to 2015 –in the best kind of way.