Davide Ballerini (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) finally clinched his first victory of the season on stage 4 of the Tour de Wallonie, sprinting clear from a breakaway that held on by the skin of its teeth.
Ballerini had been part of a six-man escape that went clear in the very earliest phases of the 200.8km stage from Durbuy to to Couvin, and was there as it reduced to three over the late climb of the Côte du Barrage du Ry de Rome.
With 6km to go, they had just 10 seconds in hand over a reduced and fragmented bunch but crucially they found support from Mattias Skjelmose Jensen (Trek-Segafredo), who sprang a counter-attack from behind.
The Danish rider was looking to make gains on the general classification and was happy to push the group down the descent and through the run-in. The breakaway trio could hardly believe their luck, and Ballerini licked his lips as the fastest finisher among them.
He duly delivered, surging to the line and winning by several bike lengths. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) was second and Rui Oliveira (UAE Team Emirates) third, while Jensen's efforts were without reward as Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) led home the reduced bunch a split-second later.
"It was really difficult because we were losing time, at one point we lost five minutes in 20km, so I was thinking it was another hard day. But we kept going and tried to stay together to the end," Ballerini said.
"The feeling was really good. I know I have the potential, but I wait a long time from last year [for a win]."
Race leader Robert Stannard (Alpecin-Deceuninck) had to respond to a series of attacks on the final climbs but finished safely in the reduced bunch to retain the overall lead.
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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