Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors) delivered a gutsy performance on the final stage of the Volta ao Algarve, coming within just a couple of kilometres of winning the stage to Malhao after a break of 31 riders threatened to turn the race on its head.
Stybar slipped clear in a group that contained eventual stage and overall winner Michal Kwiatkowski, with the group enjoying a near four-minute advantage over the main field at one point.
By the first ascent of the Malhao climb, Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hamsgrohe) had jumped from the leading group with 40 kilometres remaining. The Austrian's move sparked a wave of activity, with Stybar joining the lone leader with 20 kilometres to go.
With 11 to go Stybar's superior experience and strength was evident, and the Quick-Step rider pushed clear and towards what would have been his first win of the season. Behind him, the remnants of the break kept the gap to under 45 seconds and on the initial slopes of the Malhao, the race for the stage was in the balance.
"I knew that the last climb would be really hard against Kwiatkowski, so yeah it was great to just go very aggressive in the race actually, already from the beginning," Stybar told Cyclingnews at the finish.
"The team just said, 'Okay let's race, let's have fun on the stage' and that's what we did."
When Kwiatkowski struck for home on the final climb, Stybar began fighting a losing battle. His 30-second lead evaporated within just a couple of corners.
"I really enjoyed the racing today, the stage, it's a pity I couldn't manage to keep the gap. It was 30 seconds, but I came on the bottom of the climb completely empty so I knew it would be completely difficult."
When Kwiatkowski passed Stybar, the Team Sky rider glanced over at the Quick-Step man. After the finish, Kwiatkowski admitted that Stybar had put him under immense pressure during the stage, and praised his former teammate's ride.
"He didn't say anything, he just looked at my face, how tired it was," Stybar said.
"I didn't even try [to keep up with him]. I was going my own pace because I went really all-out the last three kilometres before the bottom of the climb to just make as big a gap as possible, and yeah it cost me a lot of energy. Anyway, I did enjoy it, it was fun."
Stybar came home in 13th place, 48 seconds down on Kwiatkowski. The results pushed the Quick-Step rider up to 15th overall, and although he leaves Algarve with little in terms of results, his form bodes well for his upcoming races, including Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche.
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