After a near miss on Monday in the Tour de Pologne's first summit finish in Szczyrk, three days later Orica-Scott's Jack Haig could take a well-deserved first professional victory with another blazing late solo attack through the mountains of southern Poland.
Haig stormed away some 19 kilometres from the stage 6 finish on the relentlessly undulating second half of stage six's arduous hilly trek from Kopalnia Soli Wieliczka salt mine to the ski resort of Zakopane close to the Polish-Slovak border.
On Monday, Haig was caught at the foot of the final climb and then teammate Adam Yates tried for a stage victory before he was overtaken by Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing) half way up the ascent.
But on Thursday, it was the Australian who clinched the win, while Yates, ninth in the chase group, kept guard and chased down the counter-attacks once Haig had gone clear. Yates was the first of his teammates to give Haig a big congratulatory hug after the finish line, too.
Just 23, Haig has had some promising results up to now, including a second place in the 2015 Tour de L'Avenir behind young Spanish climber Marc Soler (Movistar) and two top-three overall finishes in the Tour of Slovenia this summer and last.
But it was finally in Poland that he netted his first outright success, with his stage win following up teammate Caleb Ewan's victory on Tuesday and Luka Mezgec's runner-up spot on Wednesday, as well as some strong riding by Adam Yates. Both Haig and Yates are still in the overall running, with Yates moving up to sixth, 19 seconds down on race leader Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing Team) and Haig jumping 11 places to 12th, 43 seconds back. With one hilly stage on Friday remaining, as Teuns put it, "[Haig] is back in the game now."
"I tried on stage 3 [Monday] and almost made it, unfortunately, I came maybe 900 metres short," Haig said afterwards.
"I knew I had some really good legs here in this race, I've been training super hard back home in Andorra and I really wanted to try again today [Thursday] and tomorrow [Friday.]"
"I'm super happy today paid off and we'll try again tomorrow."
Haig recognised that he'd been knocking at the door to get a win for some time and that finally, he had captured the success he'd wanted.
"It's my first win of the season and as a pro, so I'm super, super happy. Hopefully, it's not the last," he observed. With him and Adam Yates in the front group, he said, "with any luck, this will be the same tomorrow, we'll both be there tomorrow, and we can try to see if we can move each other up on GC. Whether he moves up and hopefully gets the jersey or whether I move up, we'll play it by ear."
As for how close to the finish he'd been when he thought he'd got it, Haig said, "The time gap was 30 seconds and then it blew out maybe a little bit to 40 or 50 seconds and then once we got to the top of the climb and I had 50 seconds I thought I was in for a really good chance.
"It's a super fast downhill of 60kph-plus the whole time and then I thought if I rode smart, then I could maybe hold on."
He said the dedication on the finish line, his arm pointed skywards, had been to his late father. "He passed away, when I was younger, from cancer. I think about him a lot, so I dedicated it to him and often when I'm doing a lot of hard work I think about him."
Regarding Orica-Scott in this year's Tour de Pologne, come what may on Friday, Haig recognised it had been a major success. As he said, "we've had a really nice race so far, with Caleb and Luka and trying on stage 3. So we'll try again tomorrow, go out there and have a good crack and see if we can finish off Pologne super well and go into the Vuelta a España with really good legs."
Haig already raced in the Spanish Grand Tour last year, as part of a very strong climbing team for Orica. Supporting the Yates brothers and Esteban Chaves and this year, he says, he hopes that he will be there once more, and able to do the same.
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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