Cannondale-Drapac launched successful defense of Coppi e Bartali overall lead

    Cannondale-Drapac successfully defended Toms Skujins’ Coppi e Bartali race lead in Crevalcore on Saturday. A straightforward sprint stage on paper, the 171.4 kilometer day proved anything but.

    “It’s never straightforward in cycling,” said Skujins. “We were very attentive in the beginning. We kept our heads up, and when Direct Energie hit it around 60 kilometers to go, we were right there.”

    The pressure applied by Direct Energie, riding for Lilian Calmejane, who sits second overall, immediately split the peloton.

    “Unfortunately Nate crashed as the attacks were going, and that took him out of the front group,” noted Skujins. “However me, Lawson and Will made the 24-rider selection. Luckily Nate is all right, and Lawson was able to step up and do a great job in the front while Direct Energie pulled really hard.”

    Although the first chase group maintained their distance from the leaders, they were never able to bridge the gap that held steady between 30-40 seconds during the final hour of the race. This set the stage for a reduced bunch sprint.

    “Lawson got dropped with around 20 kilometers to go after doing a huge amount of work,” said Skujins. “That left me and Will with around 20 other guys. Coming into the final, there were a couple of attacks that didn’t lead to much.

    “I messed it up in the final kilometer,” Skujins said. “I should have led Will out. He had the legs to win. It was a stupid mistake on my part, but we live and learn I guess.”

    Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie) took the stage victory from Alan Banaszek (CCC Sprandi Polkowice). Clarke rounded out the podium.

    The fourth and final stage of Coppi e Bartali on Sunday is a hilly circuit with four GPMs and two uncategorized climbs. It’s similar to the stage Skujins won on Friday.

    “We’ll try our best to defend tomorrow,” said Skujins, who enjoys a 16-second advantage over Calmejane. “With how the team is riding, I can be quite confident. I’ll probably have to follow one or two moves, hit the wind once or twice. If all goes to plan, I’m hoping we bring home the bacon.”