It’s a little over a year since Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) claimed the biggest victory of his career to date in the Giro d’Italia, winning a rain-lashed stage seven after he dropped Emanuele Sella close to the finish at Pescara after a 147 kilometre breakaway.
Talking to Cyclingnews before the start of stage six of what is his 15th Grand Tour, and eighth in succession - and first of three he hopes to be doing this year - Hansen argues that getting into the sort of long distance breaks that have a chance of eventually making it to the finish vary considerably in the Vuelta, Giro and Tour.
“It’s always different. In the Vuelta it is much easier to be in breaks, the Vuelta’s a build-up for the world’s and is used more for training.”
“In the Giro, the breaks go when the Italian teams are happy. You’ve got to watch these guys because if they’re not in the break then the directors will say ‘this is the biggest race of the year for them so we have to get in it. They’re also very active in that way.”
“The Tour is a very different event in that way, because it’s a more international event.”
Other factors specific to how each race is actually developing then kick in, such as “which team has the jersey [lead] and by how much. “ In the case of this year’s Giro at the start of the very long [257 kilometre] stage six, ending on a summit finish at Montecassino, Orica-GreenEdge’s Michael Matthews has an advantage of 14 seconds on team-mate Pieter Weening, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) at 15 seconds and Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) at 19 seconds.
“Take today [stage six]. It should be easy to get in a break, because a lot of guys have lost a lot of time, and I think the main priority for Orica-GreenEdge is to keep the jersey.”
“So today they want a break to go, because if [that didn’t happen] and it does come down to a sprint finish of ten [GC] guys and Weening is still there, then Cadel will probably beat him and Urán will too, and with the time bonuses one of them will take the jersey.”
“So Orica will let a break go, and against that BMC and Omega might not let it go. But they don’t want to get the jersey then they will let the break go because no-one who’s here to win overall really wants the jersey so early.”
Yet even with so much team ‘politics’ shaping the race on a daily basis, and other factors like personal health and morale also playing a part, Hansen believes it is worth sitting down with the route book of a Grand Tour in the build-up and pinpointing the best days for breaks. However, that is definitely only one ingredient in the mix for a successful break.
“We’ll say ‘stage five is a good breakaway day’ but then suppose Michael Matthews says he wants to win. As soon as he says that, it’s no longer going to work out.”
This, in Hansen’s opinion, explains why stage five’s long-distance move failed to stick. “The only reason it didn’t was because Matthews felt he could win [at Viggiano]” - and the non-existent collaboration from other teams in pulling back the move would corroborate that theory - “and only because of that, then they wouldn’t have ridden so hard into a headwind all day and the break would have made it to the finish.”
“So you do pick your breaks, but on stage five I had no intention of doing so because I knew what Matthews had said about winning.”
With so many Grand Tours under his belt, Hansen says the experience and knowledge that brings helps him “because you know the other riders, you know the teams, you learn how they work. And then on the days you know that it won’t go, you ease back and recover and on the days you think it will go, you give it everything.”
“Personally I think” - external factors like how the race is shaping, which are impossible to predict “there’s only going to be three good chances for me and you give it everything on those three days.”
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