After two painfully close near-misses, Alvaro Hodeg's last opportunity to make a mark on the Tour de Pologne on Monday could not have ended better for the young Colombian sprinter, with both the stage win and the overall lead.
The Quick-Step Floors sprinter had been outwitted by Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) on the first stage after the German accelerated earlier than expected, surprising him, and then on stage 2 Hodeg was unable to do more than follow Ackermann as the German weaved his way through the peloton en route to victory. In both cases, the result was arguably the worst for a sprinter: second.
On the plus side and in the bigger scheme of things, for a first-year sprinter aged just 21, even two second places in a WorldTour race like Tour de Pologne would have been an impressive enough achievement. But on Monday, the young Colombian was perfectly placed in Zabrze's long finishing straight to latch onto a lead-out from Denmark's Michael Mørkøv. And for all a wave of more experienced sprinters ranging from Dan McLay and Sacha Modolo for Team EF-Education First to André Greipel came within less than a wheel's width of beating him, Hodeg held on determinedly for his third win of the season.
"The team did a really really impressive job for me, even when I was second the last two days, Michael did the perfect lead-out for me," Hodeg, already the winner of the opening stage of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and the Handzame Classic this season, told reporters afterwards.
"It's the most important win of my career," he said. "The team did a great job and they trusted in me, I think I have the best team, Michael, Fabio [Sabatini] and Davide [Martinelli] did a great job for me. I'm only pleased to be able to return them the favour."
"I knew that riders like Greipel were really keen to get the win today, but I'd had two second places, and I really wanted it to get it too. And on top of the win, we've got the leader's jersey as well."
With his work in Pologne effectively over as the race heads into the hills for four stages, Hodeg was uncertain as to what his next goals could be. "My next objective is not planned 100 per cent but I hope I will be taking part in the Deutschland Tour and the Tour of Turkey. I only want to enjoy this moment and then wait for tomorrow's stage."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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