Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) took full advantage of teammate Peter Sagan's early exit from the Tour de France on Wednesday as the German Classics specialist delivered a masterclass in how to win from a breakaway without being the fastest racer.
Although Bora-Hansgrohe are involved in the general classification battle with Wilco Kelderman, sixth overall, it was always likely that Sagan's exit from the Tour, before stage 12 with a knee injury, would give his teammates a much bigger chance to shine on their own account.
And so it proved. After Politt had made it into the 13-man break of the day, the German honed down the group to four with an attack at 40 kilometres to go, then went clear alone 12 kilometres from the line.
Ahead of the closest chasers, Imanol Erviti (Movistar) and Harry Sweeny (Lotto Soudal) by 31 seconds at the finish in Nîmes, Politt said afterwards he knew he'd have to make the race hard if he wanted to shed the fast men like André Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation) or Luka Mezgec (Team BikeExchange) before the finish.
"The group was down to four after I went for it, but then my directors told me that an 800-metre climb was the last little hill before the finish," Politt said.
Politt made a finely-calculated move, attacking from the back of the little group to surprise Erviti and Australian neo-pro Sweeny on that steady grind of a climb that suited the Classics rider's talents perfectly.
"I needed to tire out the other guys on the climb so that's when I went for it," Politt said. "And I knew the finish well because we'd been here two years ago.
"For sure we have Wilco in a good position on GC, but when a big break goes like that it's always good to have one guy in the front," he said.
"Today was an opportunity and at the end, it was nice to get a stage win for the team after we'd had the bad news of Peter [Sagan] not starting."
Politt has only had one previous win in his palmares, a stage of the Tour of Germany in 2018, but the 27-year-old's second place in Paris-Roubaix in 2019 makes it clear where he'll be heading in October.
"Paris-Roubaix is my big motivation for the rest of the season, and for sure a win like this gives me extra confidence for that," Politt said. "I hope more victories are coming for me soon.
"Even before Peter quit, the team said I might be able to go for a breakaway on one stage. But this morning we didn't really talk about which one. So I got into the break on instinct, and when I heard nobody was chasing behind I realised that this could be our day."
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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