In a triumphant comeback to racing, World Champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) completed the Tour de Pologne on Friday with a stunning but ultimately unsuccessful solo breakaway, which only definitively collapsed 2.5 kilometres from the line of the last stage.
Part of a front group of 13 that broke away early on stage 7's extremely hilly trek through the Tatras mountains, Sagan dropped the strongest of his breakaway companions, Rubén Plaza (Orica-Scott), with 27 kilometres to go. Behind, Diego Rosa (Team Sky) set off in hot pursuit from the break, but Sagan kept up a determined pace, egged on in his solo effort by the numerous Slovak fans who had crossed over the nearby border to Poland to cheer him on.
It was an impressive final crack of the whip in a week of racing in which Sagan has put his difficult summer behind him with a vengeance. The winner of the opening stage in Krakow last Saturday, his first race back since his disqualification from the Tour de France, Sagan lost the lead the following day on the downhill bunch sprint at Katowice.
But the reigning world champion bounced back in style with a second place on stage 3, the first summit finish of the race, moving into the lead once again and then strengthening his lead in the two following bunch sprints with two third places.
Things unravelled badly on stage 6, when he was dropped on the relentless succession of steep climbs in the Tatras mountains, and fell out of the GC battle by 15 minutes. But Sagan bounced back in style with his long-distance attack on stage 7, proving that he was determined to leave the Tour de Pologne at the top of his game.
Sagan was finally caught by Rosa and what was left of the fast-accelerating GC group some nine kilometres from the line, but incredibly, even as he was reeled in, the world champion tried once again to go clear. Sagan survived for a bit but on the downhill but on the long, draggy ascent to Bukowina Tatrzanska, the GC candidates hauled him in again - and this time for good. Sky's Wout Poels would go on to win with Sagan's Bora teammate Rafal Majka finishing third to nab second overall.
"The plan was to attack early on to help Rafal in the later part of the stage, but then when I was caught, Rafal told me to go alone if I had the legs.
"So I tried again, and it didn't work out. But at least I got the points jersey and I can come away from the Tour de Pologne feeling very satisfied.
"I'm also extremely appreciative of the support I got from the Slovak fans, it was very kind of them to come over here to cheer me on. But I couldn't do more than I did."
Sagan is now slated to take part in the BinckBank Tour, starting Monday, where he finished third last year, prior to heading to the World Championships.
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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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