Toms Skujins scored Cannondale-Drapac's first win of 2017 Friday at Coppi e Bartali after bridging to a late move and then dropping his companions on the final cobbled climb to the finish in Sogliano sul Rubicone. Skujins' win propelled the 25-year-old Latvian into the overall race lead with two stages remaining.
The result also marks the first pro win in Europe for Skujins, who took up the team banner after designated leader Tom-Jelte Slagter crashed early in the 130km second stage.
"I hope I’m opening the flood gates here," Skujins said of his ice-breaking win. "This was a really cool way to get the first part of the year going. I'm super stoked that I could share it with these guys that are here. TJ crashed right in front of me … luckily for both of us I managed to avoid running over his arm. The team put their confidence in me and let me have this one after that."
The day started with a seven-rider move that slipped away in the opening kilometres but was never allowed more than 3:30 advantage. The peloton pulled the gap down to just two minutes heading into the final hour of racing on the deceptively difficult course.
"Today was a hard day," Skujiņs said. "There were not a lot of flat bits. I think it was something like 2,800 meters in 130 kilometers. In the profile, it looks like the last little bit is all downhill. It is definitely not. The climbs were mostly punchy. Some were super steep."
After the peloton caught the original break, another group of five escaped on the final climb, and Skujins joined a group of four that lingered about 15 seconds behind in hot pursuit until they made contact with just one kilometre remaining.
Skujins sat in for a moment and then jockeyed his way to the front of the group as they approached the finish and the steep, 250-meter climb to the line. Skujins attacked from the front, and it was immediately clear the others could not follow.
"I figured when it doubt, lead it out," Skujiņs said. "I jumped from the bottom and never looked back."
Skujins built on his advantage as he soled to the line, finishing seven seconds ahead of Arnold Jeannesson (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), who led the rest of the group home.
Skujiņs' advantage was enough to boost him into the lead by 16 seconds over overnight race leader Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) heading into stage 3 of the four-stage race.
Coppi e Bartali continues Saturday with the 171.4km route that starts and finishes in Crevalcore. The day is a mostly flat affair, but Sunday's concluding 160km stage will test the legs of the best climbers.
"Tomorrow should be a straightforward day with a sprint in the final," Skujiņs said. "The last day is as hard if not harder than today. It will be a battle. The race is not over yet. If I have the legs, I'm completely confident the team will bring me to where I need to be, and we have a real shot at the overall."