When race leader Sep Vanmarcke moved into the Tour of Austria race lead on Monday, he made it clear in post-race interviews that a stage win on Tuesday was the team’s next aim. It was mission accomplished in Pöggstall.
Tom-Jelte Slagter won a four-up sprint to take his first victory of the season. Vanmarcke was best of the rest, sprinting in for fifth place. The stage result was enough to keep Vanmarcke in yellow and add the green points jersey to his collection.
“Our sports director once again crafted a smart plan that we executed perfectly and which delivered us the win,” said Vanmarcke. “Lots of kudos to him.”
“The plan was to let a small breakaway go, preferably a group of continental riders, to create a situation we could easily control and take initiative in the final,” Slagter added. “We executed the plan perfectly as a team.”
Five riders escaped early. None were a threat to the overall or a chance for the stage win, so Cannondale-Drapac granted the group a gap.
“Ryan Mullen and Will Clarke led the peloton from that point and they worked tirelessly the entire day,” said Vanmarcke. “In the final, when we entered the climbing section, they had brought the breakaway back to the bunch.”
Kristijan Koren and Tom Scully went on the attack following the catch. Scully continued to attack until he slipped away on the last local lap.
“Alex [Howes] bridged the gap to Scully on a steep climb,” explained Vanmarcke. “Tom kept the pace high and eventually Alex was on his own. He got 25 seconds, but because of the headwind and the attacks from the peloton, he was caught.”
Slagter picked up where Howes left off, throwing down an attack that eventually drew three other riders away with him.
“The last kilometers were tough. The climbs were very steep, and there was wind all day,” Slagter said. “I could escape with three other riders and I felt it was going to be us who would contest the stage win. I hatched a plan for the last kilometer, started my sprint in second position and won.
“I am so happy and proud of the result,” he added. “It wouldn’t have been possible without a dedicated effort from the whole team.”
As for the yellow jersey, Vanmarcke controlled the reduced bunch as Slagter toiled away up the road. Heading into the final, Vanmarcke covered several late race moves. The defense kept him well-positioned on the run-in to the line. The energy he expended wasn’t enough to keep him from contesting, and winning, the chase group sprint.
“It was a perfect day with the team,” said Vanmarcke. “We took complete control of the race.”
The stage win underscores Cannondale-Drapac’s intent at Tour of Austria. The team has already taken one stage win, two stage podiums and worn the leader’s jersey, mountain’s jersey and points jersey.
“So far, the race has been treating us well. It’s a tough race with long stages, so we’ve still got some hard days ahead of us,” Slagter said. “But we’ll fight for it everyday. The long stages are beneficial to us, I think. Everyone has been doing his work great so far, which is motivating for us all. We’ll see if we can take another stage win this week.”
While stage wins remain the focus for Cannondale-Drapac’s Austria squad, Vanmarcke thinks he might be able to keep the leader’s jersey for another day.
“The stage tomorrow is flattish, with some hills in the final,” he said. “It will probably not be hard enough to prevent a bunch sprint. Which means I stand a good chance to keep the leader’s jersey for another day. After that, we enter the mountains where it will be near impossible to retain it.”