So near yet so far. Pavel Sivakov (Team Ineos) came painfully close to winning in the Tour de Pologne on Thursday after an unlikely three-way sprint on stage 6 decided the first of two tough mountain stages.
Sivakov was able to make much of the late running in the finale of stage 6, which featured more than 3,000 metres of vertical climbing, but finally was out-powered by Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) for the stage win.
The second-year Russian pro told Cyclingnews he had "never raced so hard in the start before" after Pologne's flat-out first hour on Friday. But Sivakov came through well, only falling at the final fence but still finishing second on the stage and moving up to second overall.
"It was a very tough course, short, but really intense," Sivakov, already ninth in the Giro d'Italia and winner of the Tour des Alpes this spring, told Cyclingnews at the finish.
"At the end it was a good result for me, but I'm a bit disappointed to miss out on the win. I think if I had started my sprint a bit earlier, I could win. He surprised me a little bit."
Team Ineos put in an impressive three-pronged attack in the finale, with British national champion Ben Swift making a long-distance attack that began on the flat approach roads when he bridged across to Tsgabu Grmay (Mitchelton-Scott). After shedding Grmay, Swift's move lasted over one exceptionally tough first category climb, and he only definitively threw in the towel on the last ascent of the stage.
Meanwhile, Team Ineos' Tao Geoghegan Hart tracked counter-attacks and generally clamped down on the chasers with ruthless efficiency until Swift had been reeled in and Sivakov went clear with James Knox (Deceuninck-QuickStep) – who was dropped shortly afterwards – Jai Hindley (Team Sunweb) and stage winner Vingegaard. Then after a fast descent to the finish, Vingegaard had the better of Sivakov on the day.
"It's not often that I arrive in a sprint like that, this is my first time as a pro, but it's a good experience for the future," Sivakov concluded – and in the short term, the Russian and his teammates look very likely to be back in the thick of the action on Friday.
After all his hard work, Geoghegan Hart took eighth, just 10 seconds back, with Swift coming home at 47 seconds, giving Team IIneos three cards to play in Friday's final stage of the seven-day race.
Sivakov, though, is only four seconds back and in pole position amongst the GC contenders to put Vingegaard under pressure. Either way, with 18 riders at 61 seconds or less and nothing to play for after Friday's stage, the sparks seem certain to fly once again on the final day of the Tour de Pologne.