Team Sky won the inaugural Hammer Series after a thrilling final Hammer Chase race that was decided on the line.
Team Sunweb started 32 seconds after Team Sky in the handicapped team time trial, but gradually chased them down on the three 14.5-kilometre laps of the flat and fast Limburg circuit. The catch came with 3.5 kilometres to go but Team Sunweb were unable to hold off the British squad in the finale.
Team Sky hit back and took the lead going into the final corner. A drag race to the line decided the winner. Tao Geoghegan Hart fought for position, even using his elbows, ultimately managing to finish as the fourth rider for Sky ahead of three of the Team Sunweb riders.
The fight for third place turned into a fight for the road after Nippo - Vini Fantini, Lotto Soudal, Movistar, Cannondale-Drapac, Orica-Scott and LottoNL-Jumbo all came together after the first 14.5km lap.
Under race rules drafting was not allowed but the teams stayed packed together, with some even ignoring instructions from race officials on motorbikes. Orica-Scott spent much of the time on the front of the six-team pack and eventually managed to get their fourth man across the line first to take the final spot on the podium. They finished 36 seconds back on Team Sky, with Lotto Soudal fourth in the same time and Movistar fifth at 37 seconds.
Team Sky's winning race strategy
Team Sky celebrated their historic first win the final podium, praising each other for the work they did. They won the first Hammer Series thanks to better tactics across the three races and especially in the finale.
The British team finished third in Friday's Hammer Climb race and then fourth in Saturday's Hammer Sprint. Their combined consistency on both terrain's meant they started first in the final Hammer Chase, more or less a team time trial with a few adjustments. They avoided the confusion that reigned amongst the other teams and could concentrate on the fight with Team Sunweb.
Elia Viviani explained Team Sky's tactics for the Chase.
"Initially we started with idea to do our team time trial, full gas and try to win the TTT. When we lost Dibben we were down to 4 and with a lap to go. We tried to go steady for all the final lap," the Italian said.
"We knew via the radio that Sunweb was coming up. They played a little game and rested behind us, so we said to give them the space and we'd see what happens in the sprint. We have three good sprinters and Tao did a good job to get fourth."
Geoghegan Hart celebrated with his teammates, knowing he did an incredible ride in the finale to ensure Team Sky won.
"I think the lead outs we've done for Elia this year have helped a lot but I'm lost for words," the British neo-pro said.
"In the last kilometre Van Poppel led it out and it was unbelievable how fast he overtook them. I was already sprinting from about 600 metres to go and we were all on the limit in the final metres. Thankfully I had a little bit more than Sunweb guys. It was a good job by all the team."
Van Poppel explained the importance of his late charge to take the final corner first.
"I had to bring them to the last corner. It was really close but if I didn't do it we didn't win. It was a big fight," he said as his Team Sky teammates smiled and savoured their victory.
Earlier, the lesser final for places to 9-16 also produced some drama. Quick-Step Floors emerged as the best team but only after BMC was hit by four punctures in the final kilometres. BMC first lost Daniel Oss and then were slowed by further flats. They eventually finished third at 1:38.
Trek-Segafredo fought hard and almost caught Quick-Step Floors at the line but finished in second, four seconds back.
Hammer Series Final Ranking
|8||Nippo - Vini Fantini|
|11||BMC Racing Team|
|12||Team Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij|
|14||UAE Team Emirates|
|15||Team Caja Rural|
|16||Israel Cycling Academy|