A chaotic bunch sprint finale for the second day running at the Tour de Pologne saw another outsider snatch his chance for victory as Gerben Thijssen (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux) outpowered all the favourites at Zamosc.
In a fast but technical finale where the main sprinters' teams lost control in a welter of road furniture and multiple high-speed bends, Thijssen came off the last roundabout some 500 metres from the line and into the slightly rising finishing straight a little behind Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates), but well-positioned nonetheless.
In what culminated in a magnificent five-way dash for the line, Ackermann initially looked closest to getting the win, but he faded painfully close to the line. Meanwhile, Thijssen, coming up in the centre, just managed to fend off Bahrain Victorious' Jonathan Milan even as stage one winner Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma) was edging out Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) on the left to claim fourth and fifth respectively.
Like Kooij on Saturday, Thijssen's victory in Pologne was his first at WorldTour level, with the 24-year-old's only previous victory a stage of the Four Days of Dunkirk earlier this season. And like Kooij, too, Thijssen said being able to get the better of some of the world's top-name fast men in Pologne only made his dream success all the sweeter.
"I got a second place one time in the Vuelta a España, so I'm very happy I could win here. Beating someone like Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) is a big childhood dream come true, too, because when I was young I looked up to him," he added.
15th in the opening sprint, Thijssen said that his slow start to Pologne had been due to starting racing immediately after returning from altitude camp, but in 24 hours he could turn things around.
"Having won in Dunkirk I said my goal was to win another race, but when you're riding events as big as Pologne and then the Vuelta a España in a few weeks' time, wins aren't that easy," he said.
Meanwhile, there was an unexpected change of race leadership as Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team) ousted Kooij from the top spot overall thanks to snatching various bonus sprint seconds in two successive breakaways.
"We switched goals and tried to get in the moves today again after our leader Tobias Johannessen had to quit the race," Abrahamsen said, "but I don't think I'll be able to defend the lead in the hills tomorrow. [Monday]."
How it unfolded
Stage 2 got underway with a notably high number of none-starters following Saturday's crash. Among the nine DNS were Sam Oomen, a teammate of race leader Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma) and two Uno-X racers, Tour de L'Avenir winner Johannessen and double Norwegian road champion Rasmus Tiller. But despite the incessant, very heavy rain showers and the high number of battered bodies in the peloton, the race began with a salvo of attacks that only concluded when four riders managed to go clear.
With remarkably close parallels to Saturday's early break of five, once again a Lotto-Soudal rider and, once again, two members of the Poland National squad were all in on the move of the day. Poland was represented by Patrick Stosz, already in the break on stage 1, and Piotr Broznya, while Jasper de Buyst flew the flag for Lotto_Soudal and Andrea Peron joined the action for Novo-Nordisk.
In no time at all, the four had created a respectable-sized advantage of over six minutes and for the next few hours, little of note occurred as the bunch ground its way across eastern Poland, although Jumbo-Visma tapped out a steady enough pace to squeeze the gap to a little under five minutes with 100 kilometres to go. Unlike on Saturday, however, the break disintegrated very quickly as soon as the sprinters' teams began piling on the pressure on the interminable flat, straight, water-logged roads running through miles of farmland.
First Stosz and Abrahamsen sat up and waited for the bunch, then Brozyna followed suit and with 19 kilometres to go only De Buyst, his advantage squeezed to less than a minute, decided to continue out front in a lone, futile bid for glory.
De Buyst's tenacity though, proved, far more of an obstacle than expected and even a concerted effort by Alpecin-Deceuninck and Jumbo-Visma failed to reduce his lead by more than 20 seconds on the broad highways around and through Zamosc. In fact, De Buyst still had a respectable 30-second advantage on the peloton as he powered across the line to tackle the flat seven-kilometre finishing circuit through the city.
It was only when QuickStep-Alpha Vinyl, Trek-Segafredo and Groupama-FDJ began contributing that De Buyst was reeled in, albeit with just 1.5 kilometres to the finish, and the lack of control and hesitations in the peloton after such a late catch was palpable.
Another Lotto-Soudal rider even made a late lone bid for victory, but although he was unable to gain more than a few metres, the large roundabout with 500 metres to go broke an already semi-shattered peloton's momentum even further. Instead, in the mad every-sprinter-for-himself dash for the line that decided the stage, Thijssen just managed to edge the rest of the field.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.
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