Jan Polanc (Lampre-Merida) was riding two races at once on the final ascent to Abetone and the Slovenian youngster emerged victorious on both counts to claim stage 5 of the Giro d’Italia and his first professional win.
After dispensing of his four breakaway companions midway up the 17-kilometre ascent, Polanc could have been forgiven for assuming that he had completed the hardest part of the bargain, but when Alberto Contador triggered a spate of attacking at the front of the chasing peloton in the final five kilometres, he had to up his tempo once again to complete the deal.
The 23-year-old’s grimace seemed ever more desperate in the closing kilometres as his once healthy margin was swiftly cut down to size by Contador, Fabio Aru and Richie Porte’s one-upmanship behind, but he still had 1:31 minutes in hand by the time he reached the summit.
“When the climb started my directeur sportif told me not to go at 100 per cent immediately, he told me not to go too deep too soon,” said Polanc, who was briefly caught in a game of cat and mouse with Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) and Sylvan Dillier (BMC) at the base of Abetone.
With a shade under 10 kilometres remaining, Polanc forged clear alone and, now free to tap out his own rhythm rather than dance to someone else’s tune, he eased away Chavanel, gradually stretching his advantage out to a minute over the Frenchman.
“I was going at 90 per cent when I attacked because the climb was long although I knew that it wasn’t as steep in the last three or four kilometres and that would make it easier,” Polanc said. “But then, at that point, I had the top riders chasing behind and I had to up the pace, and that made it harder.”
Polanc is in his second full season as a professional but his relationship with Lampre dates all the way back to the end of 2011, when the team signed an option on his services after he impressed in his first year as an under-23 with the Radenska team in his home country, a squad coached by a Lampre alumnus, 2000 Worlds bronze medallist Andrej Hauptman. At the end of 2013, Polanc was called up to the majors.
“As an under-23, I did some good results and that got me a contract with Lampre,” said Polanc, who began racing aged 12, when he was coached by his father, Marko. “They gave me another opportunity when I rode the Giro last year [placing 42nd – ed.] and then when they picked me again this year.”
Polanc celebrated his 23rd birthday last week as he was travelling to San Remo for the beginning of this Giro and he shyly said that it was too soon to say if he could develop into a Grand Tour rider. “I’d like that, but it’s difficult to say. I’m still young, so we’ll see in a few more years.” He admitted that he had taken heart, however, from the victory of his contemporary Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Garmin) at La Spezia on Tuesday.
“I’ve raced with Formolo since we were juniors, so I know him well,” Polanc said. “He won yesterday, I won today: it’s nice to see riders from my generation winning and hopefully the Giro continues like that.”
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