Cannondale Pro Cycling recruit Wouter Wippert notched his best finish yet on Saturday for the American WorldTour team he joined this year, finishing second in stage 4 at the Volta ao Algarve behind Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep).
The 25-year-old Dutchman joined Cannondale in the offseason after spending two years with Drapac Pro Cycling, where he pulled in nine UCI wins. Cannondale brought Wippert on board to bolster the team's chances in the fast finishes, and the move appears to be close to paying off.
"Two steps closer to the first," said Wippert, who finished fourth during Algarve's opening stage, which Kittel also won. "The team did a really good job. The boys kept me out of the wind the whole day, supported me the whole day and believed in me the whole day. I felt really strong."
The 194km stage from S. Brás de Alportel to Tavira had been earmarked for the sprinters, and Cannondale deidciated their squad to putting Wippert in with a chance.
"We had two goals today initially," Wippert said. "[André] Cardoso wanted to go into the break to try to get the mountain jersey. He was in the first break but it was chased back by Caja Rural. We just missed out on the second break. Three guys went and that was it. Roads blocked. After that team orders were to work for the bunch sprint."
Wippert and his team moved to the front with 30km to go to avoid trouble and be in position for the fast finish, with their sprinter tucked in to save energy as a tailwind pushed up the pace over the final 20km. The sprint trains began to take shape in the final 5km, and Wippert took up the green argyle team's banner from there.
"They left me on the front with one-and-a-half to go," he said. "I found Marcel Kittel's wheel."
Wippert followed Kittel as the big German led through the final turn, but he had to brake slightly.
"I had to make up a little bit of a gap, but it was so fast that no one could come around us," Wippert said. "Once I closed that little gap, I was in the perfect position. Kittel gave me the perfect lead-out, but he was too strong in the last 200 meters, and I couldn't come around. So second. There was nothing more possible."
Although Wippert missed out on the victory, the runner-up result behind one of the fastest men in the world provided a bright ray of hope for team CEO Jonathan Vaughters.
"Wippert is starting to become a giant slayer in sprinting," Vaughters said. "It won't be long before David whacks Goliath."
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