Standing by the side of the barriers after the finish of the Tour de Pologne's stage 6 with just a soigneur for company, BMC Racing Team's Dylan Teuns kept glancing nervously at a giant TV screen to see the GC results as soon as possible. Finally, though, it was a UCI commissaire who came hurrying across the tarmac to tell the young Belgian the words he wanted to hear: "Yellow. Yellow jersey."
The winner of the first mountainous stage of the race on Monday and running second overall since then, Teuns has moved into the overall lead after Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) cracked badly with some 25 kilometres to go.
A cat-and-mouse battle ensued in the lead group of 11, containing almost all the main favourites, but although the Belgian could not stop Jack Haig (Orica-Scott) from breaking away, he still kept a firm enough grasp on his rivals to ensure he has the lead. But only just.
12th and last of the group to finish on the long, uphill drag to Zakopane, Teuns kept a six-second advantage over Rafael Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) with Wilco Keldermann (Team Sunweb) in third at 10 seconds back. But with 12 riders within 43 seconds on the overall – stage winner Jack Haig is the furthest adrift of the real GC threats – the battle for what would be BMC Racing's first ever victory in the Tour de Pologne is far from resolved in Teuns' favour.
"We knew when Haig attacked we could give him a little bit of time because he was already two minutes down," Teuns said afterwards. "But now he's back also in the [GC] game."
There was a moment where Teuns had almost lost his chance at the race lead when Majka and Kelderman followed an attack from Sky's Wout Poels, and he was on the wrong side of the split.
"In the last climb it was really hard for me, we were split into two parts, five and five behind, but I was in the second part, it was hard to control everybody," Teuns said.
"So I had to take a little break and there was a gap and then it came back again on the descent, which was good. But then in the finish, I had to control everybody and then they started to sprint and I just hung on for last."
BMC amped up the pace in the hilly final half of the stage, in particular behind Tejay van Garderen, who set a brisk pace on an uncategorised climb with 30km to go and spelt the end of Sagan's stint in yellow.
"Today the plan was to make it hard for the last 50 kilometres because we knew it would be hard for Peter Sagan to survive all those climbs and then I had only to keep an eye on Majka and for sure [Vincenzo] Nibali and [Domenico] Pozzovivo are riding good, too."
Asked how he viewed Friday's final mountainous stage, Teuns answered, to appreciative chuckles from the journalists present, that "it will be hard! There are ten guys in 35 seconds or something [11 within 33 seconds - Ed.] and they're all ready to fight tomorrow, so we will see. I need my team, I think they will be ready to fight for me and fight for the jersey. I will be ready to defend it and give it everything."
He recognised that the pressure would be higher on Friday compared to Thursday, with the last chance for the outright victory for all the GC contenders and everything to play for coming down to this last stage. But as Teuns argued philosophically "in those same conditions, you either win or you lose."
On the plus side for the young Belgian, Teuns has done rather more of the former recently, with four wins in the last 10 days. These include the overall of the Tour de Wallonie and two stages, his first victories as a pro, and of course his stage victory on Monday in the Tour de Pologne.
"It will be hard tomorrow, and if I lose, then it's OK. But I will give everything to win," he concluded.
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