Wout Poels has spent most of his time at Team Sky this year working in the service of his team captains Chris Froome or Richie Porte, but at Tour of Britain the Dutchman is enjoying the freedom to fight for his own result, and his efforts paid off on stage 5 on Hartside Fell with a stage victory and a second-place position on the general classification, just one second off the lead of Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka).
Poels was almost sure that the win had slipped through his fingers when Boasson Hagen attacked at the final kilometre, but a strong headwind slowed the Norwegian champion just enough that Poels could recover and the sprint away to take his second win of the season.
"It was pretty close at 500 meters, I thought I was going to be second, but then he slowed down a little bit, and I thought, 'I have to take this chance'," Poels said. "I knew we had headwind until the last 500m and then it was crosswind, so the last three kilometres were quite hard."
Poels rode aggressively on the final ascent, bridging up to his compatriot Steven Kruiswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), before seeing the approach of Boasson Hagen, who bridged across solo. Once the Norwegian made contact, Poels attacked, but he could not hold off the steady power of Boasson Hagen, who countered with a kilometer to go.
"I have to say when Boasson Hagen attacked the last time, it was a really strong one. I didn't know if I could catch him, but I was lucky with the wind," Poels said.
Now just one second behind on GC, Poels hopes to be able to gain time in the coming three stages, but knows it will be difficult against such a strong sprinter.
"It would be nice if I can take time, but he showed he's in good shape in the climbs. It's going to be a hard battle," Poels said.
After spending the summer working for Chris Froome at the Tour de France and Criterium du Dauphine, and for Porte in Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, it is the first time since Tirreno-Adriatico, where he won a stage and finished seventh overall, that Poels has had a chance to successfully race for his own result.
"It's always nice to go for your own chance and not work for someone else," Poels said. "When you go to Team Sky, and especially to the Tour de France, you know you have to work for Chris. It's really nice now to go for stage victories and GC for myself, so I'm really enjoying this race. It's a home race for Sky and it's nice to do."
So far Team Sky has three stage wins, the other two coming from sprinter Elia Viviani, who could potentially deny Boasson Hagen some time bonuses in the coming stages, but with only six riders and a formidable opponent, Poels knows it will be a challenge to make up even a single second.
"I think Boasson Hagen is a good sprinter, so it's going to be hard for me. Tomorrow is a hard stage also, so we'll see. Every day here is up and down, it's hard everywhere. We have to see what the sport directors have in the plan. Three days left and one second, it's not really a lot. It can be enough for Boasson Hagen, but I'm going to do my best."