Team Sunweb underlined their domination of the breakaway stages in the 2020 Tour de France on Saturday as 48 hours after Marc Hirschi’s stunning win in the deeply rural setting of Sarran, Soren Kragh Andersen clinched a the stage 14 solo triumph in the heart of France’s second biggest city, Lyon.
Third in Sarran, as he and teammate Nicolas Roche protected Hirschi’s interests in the chasing groups, at Lyon, three kilometres from the line on a technical hilly, urban finale, it was the Dane’s chance to go it alone for glory.
Teammate Tiesj Benoot had opened up proceedings with one attack on the first of two climbs in Lyon - and Kragh Andersen, as he admitted, had made a mistake by trying for it himself before realising Benoot was already up there and falling back into line.
Then it was Hirschi’s turn to launch off the front, and even if that was foiled by Classics specialists as strong as Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) and Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe), Kragh Andersen was waiting in the wings for a second, and this time successful, bid to go clear.
Sunweb has had an unerring ability to create successful opportunities in the Tour de France, without having a star sprinter or climber in their ranks. Their decision to leave Michael Matthews out of their Tour line-up had not been without controversy, however, they are rapidly turning into the squad-to-beat when it comes to the race's breakaway stages.
Asked if they had any specific team orders regarding who would attack and when, Kragh Andersen told reporters that Sunweb had “a general plan for racing aggressively, but nothing more, while keeping Casper [Pedersen] for the spring.”
“For the rest of what happened today, it was all about instincts. I’d found it quite a challenge not to doubt myself in the first part of the race, but I told myself to wait and that my moment would come. It was the perfect moment to attack.”
He admitted that his counter-attack behind Benoot over the Cote de la Croix-Rousse, had not been intentional, rather it was an honest error in the heat of the moment.
“They said on the radio, ‘Tiesj, go, go go’ and I didn’t see him attack as I was pushing hard myself to get to the front. Once I was ahead, I saw he was up there, and I stopped. Luckily I didn’t ruin anything,” Kragh Andersen reflected.
In a year which has seen a rare lack of breakaways on one stage, to Privas in the first week, Kragh Andersen said Bora-hansgrohe’s persistent high pace early on to try and ensure there wasn’t a bunch sprint and to eliminate Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) from the running, had been critical when it came to boosting their own chances.
“It had a big impact on the race. They shrank the peloton to half its usual size,” Kragh Andersen pointed out, and in the group of chasers behind him, there were only 50 riders remaining by the finish.
“For me and the Sunweb team, it was a perfect situation. We don’t have a sprinter who can get over the climbs and he's not the fastest of the guys here. So we have to attack more often.”
The successful teamwork Sunweb are showing in the Tour isn’t just a question of having the right strategy, Kragh Andersen said. Rather he recognised that Hirschi’s success two days ago had raised the entire team’s motivation and desire to win.
“When you see this young guy doing these amazing things, I’m also inspired and I believe a bit more in myself," he said.
One factor that Kragh Andersen did not expect en route to victory in Lyon was that the finishing straight was completely devoid of fans, thanks to the anti-COVID-19 measures put in place by the local authorities. As a result, Kragh Andersen could not soak up the same kind of applause he had experienced when clinching stages of the Tour de Suisse, Paris-Nice and Paris-Tours earlier in his career.
“I realised that, because there had been a lot of people on that last descent, a great crowd, and then as I came to the finish line, suddenly I had to celebrate alone,” Kragh Andersen concluded.
“But it doesn’t matter, I still had the same emotions inside me and it’s good they [the authorities] have done this, it’s for our safety. I support it.”
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