Skujiņš scores Cannondale-Drapac’s first win of the season

    Toms Skujiņš out-foxed a late race selection of eight riders to deliver Cannodale-Drapac’s first victory of the season at Coppi e Bartali on Friday. The stage two win in Sogliano sul Rubicone is Skujiņš’ first professional victory in Europe, and it came with an added bonus: the race leader’s jersey.

    “Toms represents exactly what our team is about,” said Slipstream Sports CEO Jonathan Vaughters. “He’s an incredibly intelligent and switched-on human. He was an overlooked talent that we felt would over-produce. And he has. I’m super happy for him.”

    Skujiņš didn’t start the day as Cannondale-Drapac’s protected rider. That responsibility was bestowed upon Tom-Jelte Slagter. When Slagter crashed, Skujiņš seized the opportunity that presented itself.

    “TJ crashed right in front of me … luckily for both of us I managed to avoid running over his arm,” said Skujiņš “The team put their confidence in me and let me have this one after that.

    “I hope I’m opening the flood gates here,” Skujiņš added. “This was a really cool way to get the first part of the year going. I’m super stoked that I could share it with these guys that are here.

    HOW IT HAPPENED

    A seven-rider breakaway slipped away from the Coppi e Bartali peloton early, but the group was never allowed a long leash. They gained a maximum advantage of 3:30, reduced to two minutes before the final hour of racing.

    “Today was a hard day,” said Skujiņš. “There were not a lot of flat bits. I think it was something like 2,800 meters in 130 kilometers. In the profile, it looks like the last little bit is all downhill. It is definitely not. The climbs were mostly punchy. Some were super steep.”

    Much of that vertical gain came from three categorized climbs. The last of the three, the GPM in Motegelli, featured three times in the second half of the stage. Joe Dombrowski and Nate Brown steered Skujiņš around the thinning peloton on the final two ascents of the climb.

    “I have to mention Nate here,” said Skujiņš. “He really helped me out in the approach to the final climb. I hit the climb for the last time having used no energy and in a great position. All I had to do was follow as long as a could.

    “When we got to the final climb, the original break had been caught, and there was another lone rider away,” noted Skujiņš. “Caja Rural picked up the pace quite considerably and one of their guys launched a monster attack. He was followed by two guys, and then another two bridged across.”

    The five-rider group led up the final ascent of the GPM in Montegelli. Skujiņš was part of a four-rider chase. Fifteen seconds separated the two groups with five kilometres remaining.

    “On the rolling part, we worked really well together,” said Skujiņš. “We caught them in the last kilometre.”

    The finish was a steep “cobbled-ish” 250-meter climb to the line.

    “I figured when it doubt, lead it out,” said Skujiņš. “I jumped from the bottom and never looked back.”

    He soloed across the finish line seven seconds ahead of Arnold Jeannesson (Fortuneo – Vital Concept), who led the rest of the group home. Skujiņš carries a 16-second advantage over overnight race leader Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) into Saturday’s stage three.

    “Tomorrow should be a straightforward day with a sprint in the final,” said Skujiņš. “The last day is as hard if not harder than today. It will be a battle. The race is not over yet. If I have the legs, I’m completely confident the team will bring me to where I need to be and we have a real shot at the overall.”