Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) only had five seconds of his breakaway margin left when he crossed the finish line to claim the best victory of his career during the Vuelta a España's stage 15 at Lagos de Covadonga on Sunday. But those five seconds ahead of second-placed Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) made all the difference for the Polish veteran.
Third in the Giro di Trentino earlier this year, and sixth overall in the Giro d’Italia in 2013, Niemiec’s consistency has stood him in good stead over the years. But actual victories, like the one the 34-year-old took in the Route du Sud in 2009, rather than placings have been few and far between - with his previous triumph to Sunday’s win, a stage of the Tour of the Pyrenees in August 2010.
After getting in the day-long break of five on Sunday, Niemiec dug deep to stay ahead of the overall contenders as they remorselessly closed in on the last survivor from the early move of the stage. And he just managed it - with a margin of nearly eleven minutes shrinking to just five seconds by the summit of the Lagos de Covadonga.
He admitted after taking the win on one of Spain’s most legendary climbs that he was on the hunt for a new contract, and that such a prestigious win, his first Grand Tour victory, would do no harm to his chances of extending his career to 2015.
Learning from previous errors on the same climb also helped. “Two years ago in the Vuelta [on stage 15 - Ed.] I was in the early break that made it to the foot of the Lagos de Covadonga and of the 22 riders in it, I got dropped the earliest,” Niemiec recalled.
“This time I was determined not to make the same mistake and so I really rode within myself, trying not to use up too much energy.
“It was only when the break got to ten minutes ahead of the bunch” - its maximum being 10:40 at kilometre 82 of the 152-kilometre stage - “that I thought we might have a chance of staying away.
“It’s a good stage to get, that’s for sure,” he recognised, before pointing out, “I don’t have a contract for next year, this stage win should help me get something, I hope.” At Lampre since 2011, his main role “has been as a support worker for [former Lampre rider] Michele Scarponi, I’m a team helper.”
Flung into the media limelight at the Lagos de Covadonga, Niemiec recognised that Polish cycling had been hitting the heights throughout 2014. “First it was Michal [Kwiatkowski - Omega Pharma-QuickStep] in the start of the year, then Rafael Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) with his King of the Mountains jersey and stage wins in the Tour and now me.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to continue the run of success at the Worlds - we’ll be fielding a very strong team there.”