Jan Hirt put on a great performance on the hardest stage of Czech Cycling Tour, by attacking late in the race and finishing in Sternberk, in the top 10.
The breakaway of the day was forming for more than one hour and every team wanted to have its rider in the escape. The stage kicked off with many attacks and the pace was extremely fast. After 50 kilometers of racing finally a leading group emerged in the front. Despite lots of effort from CCC Sprandi Polkowice cyclists, they were unable to get into that group. Those who managed to go clear were Michal Podlaski (Active Jet), Stephan Rabitsch (Felbermayr – Simplon Wels), Andreas Schillinger (Bora – Argon 18), Kirill Pozdnjakov (RusVelo), Adriaan Janssen (Jo Piels), Tom Wirtgen (Leopard), Tomáš Bucháček (Whirlpool-Author), Jan Tratnik (Amplatz – BMC), Radoslav Rogina (Adria Mobil), Oscar Riesebeek (Metec – TKH). Tomáš Koudela (Czech National Team) and Matthias Krizek (Felbermayr – Simplon Wels) joined them later, creating a 12-man break.
The escapees established over 4 minute lead, but they had to work without Wirtgen, who got dropped and came back to the bunch.
CCC Sprandi Polkowice moved up front and started setting strong pace in the hilly terrain. Because of their work many riders were in difficulties and lost contact with the group. Also the gap decreased drastically and it dropped to under 1:30.
With around 30 kilometers to go the breakaway began to split. Schillinger tried a solo move but he got reeled in by shattered bunch, which included only around 30 people. Stefan Schumacher, Nikolay Mihaylov and Jan Hirt, who won the stage to Sternberk last year, were among them. The latter decided to pull away alongside his compatriot, Leopold Konig (Czech National Team). The duo built up a 40-second lead and the CCC Sprandi Polkowice rider was in good position to repeat his success.
Konig wanted the win as much as Hirt though and on that day was slightly stronger. He left Hirt behind and kicked off his journey for stage victory. He held off the chasers, who caught Hirt, and took the win. Karel Hnik (Czech National Team) was 2nd and Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18) finished 3rd. Third rider of Tour of Austria GC arrived in 8th place, 36 seconds back. Also Stefan Schumacher did well, and claimed 12th place.
Petr Vakoc (Etixx-Quick Step), who was 5th on the stage, took over the leader jersey from his teammate, Fernando Gaviria.
I felt quite good today. On the first two circuits I was able to respond to every acceleration, but at the bottom of the final climb, I had cramps and I couldn’t follow Konig anymore – Hirt said afterwards.
It was not a typical mountain stage and I prefer longer climbs, but I had to try. Yesterday we fell out of the GC contention and our goal for today was to ride aggressively and fight for the stage victory. The team did a great job by pulling the peloton in the second part of racing and making the competition harder for everyone.
I don’t know exactly how did it happen, that on yesterday’s windy stage we missed the decisive move, since we were riding in the front of the bunch. Maybe we made a mistake later, when it took us too long to organize a chase. Some riders were trying to bridge the gap by themselves and it got very chaotic.
Tomorrow is also a hard day but not as demanding as today. The stage should suit classic riders and I expect a 30-man group to arrive at the finish. Of course we will do everything we can to be there and try to bring a stage success home.