Wouter Poels (Team Sky) has said he confident he can defend his overall lead at Tirreno-Adriatico on Sunday’s big mountain finish to Terminillo, after winning Saturday’s stage to Castelraimondo and gaining 14 seconds on his nearest rivals.
Poels took over team leadership for Team Sky after Chris Froome’s surprise last-minute withdrawal but seems to have stepped up a level, and has hit an excellent moment of early-season form after training hard with Froome in South Africa during the winter.
Poels now leads Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-QuickStep) by 17 seconds, with Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) fourth at 26 seconds, and Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing) seventh at 28 seconds. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) lost seven seconds on the descent after being isolated from his teammates and is ninth at 31 seconds, one better than Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 14th at 34 seconds. They are expected to fight for victory on the 16km climb to Terminillo, the central Apennine ski resort, east of Rome.
Terminillo will be a significant test of Poels’ form and ability but seemed sure he can pull off a surprise overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico and beat some of the world’s best stage race riders.
“It’s not a big gap but I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, then we’ll see. I know people like Contador and Urán are in good shape but I’m in really good shape too and felt really good out there. The long climbs (like Terminillo) are not so bad for me, so I’m confident I can defend the jersey and keep it,” he said in the post-race press conference, going as far to suggest that he is the favourite to win this fiftieth edition of Tirreno-Adriatico.
“Maybe after today yes I am,” he said. “There are still three more stages, including a final time trial. Urán is a good shape, Contador too. The race is not done but we’ll see what happens.”
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A textbook attack
Poels made a textbook move near the top of the final climb on the rolling 226km stage. As Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) faded and came back to the leading riders, Poels accelerated away, swept past the Sicilian and then dived down the descent. The bigger-name riders hesitated behind and he powered onto the finish, to take the biggest win of his 10-year career and take the blue leader’s jersey.
“I think I was strongest on the climb today and I think I’m at a higher level this year,” he said revealing his attack was more instinctive than planned by the Team Sky tacticians.
“The plan was to not loose time and not loose time on the GC, we talked about an attack if we had good leg and not too early,” he revealed. “I had the legs, didn’t go too early, so it was perfect. It was a really good moment to attack and after it was only downhill, so I was lucky too.”
Poels spent three weeks training with Chris Froome at altitude in South Africa early in the year and is hoping he can secure a place on Froome’s Tour de France squad. He admitted he the success by his Team Sky teammates in recent races had also inspired him.
“When you in a good mood in a team and see your teammates win, you want to win too,” he said.
“I was the lucky one today. But we also trained really hard this winter; I did my first altitude training camp for the first time in my life. It was really disappointing that I couldn’t ride my first race with Chris because I want to do the Tour de France with him. Of course we have to look to see if I fit in with the team and you have to ride together to find out, but this was also a good opportunity for team. It’s good also that we can win and take good results.”