Despite an impressive and aggressive fifth place finish in the final stage of the Tour de Pologne, George Bennett just missed out on the GC podium after the final day of racing. Michal Kwiatkowski won the race, having led since stage 4, with the final stage going the way of Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates ahead of Thibaut Pinot and Davide Formolo.
Bukowina Tatrzańska would be the host of the final stage of the Tour de Pologne, with plenty of climbing packed into the final 129km of racing. The race featured six category 1 climbs plus the final ramp up to the finishing line. Despite the high stakes on offer the peloton were happy for a large breakaway group to go up the road, with a move of some 15 riders eventually forming at the head of the race.
The group was made up of Roman Kreuziger of Mitchelton-Scott, Maciej Paterski of the Polish National Team, Evgeny Shalunov of Gazprom-Rusvelo, Valerio Conti and Rui Costa of UAE Team Emirates, Jorge Arcas of Movistar, Alexey Lutsenko of Astana, Tom Leezer of LottoNL-JUmbo, Jan Bakelants and Mickaël Chérel of AG2R La Mondiale, José Herrada of Cofidis, Johannes Fröhlinger of Team Sunweb, Patrick Konrad of BORA-Hansgrohe, Danilo Wyss of BMC Racing and Jhonatan Restrepo of Katusha-Alpecin.
With 52km of racing remaining the gap to the peloton was sitting at 2.19mins. Team Sky, as had been their style throughout the race, were once again leading the peloton, knowing that attacks would surely come thick and fast in the latter stages from their rivals; with all of the top 12 riders within 45 seconds of Kwiatkowski’s lead. George Bennett started the stage in third overall; 24 seconds behind the Pole.
With the peloton inevitably closing in on the peloton to within a minute with 30km to go Valerio Conti pushed onwards with Chërel and Lutsenko, leaving the rest of the group behind initially, although there was more shuffling around to come as Bakelants bridged across. Attacks also began in the bunch behind them, subtle hints at what was to come.
Kreuziger, Konrad and Herrada were able to get across to the leaders and the rise in intensity for the break saw their lead extend to just over 1.25mins over the bunch with 27km remaining before steadily dropping again. Between them a chase group containing Fabio Felline of Trek-Segafredo was in pursuit of the leaders.
With 15km to go LottoNL-Jumbo took over on the front of the peloton, working to try and protect George Bennett’s podium place or challenge Kwatkowski. The chasers of the break were being reeled in and with 14km to go the gap to the leaders was just 44 seconds. As a number of chasers were brought back, Bennett made his first move, drawing with him Dylan Teuns, Michal Kwiatkowski, Alexey Lutsenko, before the rest of the contenders began to join them again.
Bennett wasn’t done yet, and in a manner reminiscent of his attacks yesterday he went again; and then again. The attacks weren’t as fruitful as they’d been the day before, although Team Sky were finding themselves progressively more isolated. Impressively though, Valerio Conti – after being caught – was able to stay with the leaders and then he went on the attack again. But a counter attack behind him from Simon Yates – in the company of Lutsenko – would prove decisive; with no one else able to go with the Brit.
Yates’ attack was a very powerful one, and the Brit soon found daylight with 11km to go as Conti and Lutsenko dropped off the pace. Behind the Mitchelton-Scott rider Team Sky were patiently tapping out a high tempo, stringing out a select group of GC contenders and trying to deter other attacks. The gap to Yates, however, was growing to dangerous levels as he’d started the day at just 39 seconds adrift of Kwiatkowski and with bonus seconds on offer his lead of 37 seconds would be enough to take the overall title; thus pushing Bennett off the podium as well.
Credit to Team Sky, though, they kept the pace as high as they could, and appeared very cool under pressure, as even with 3km to go their overall race win still hung in the balance. All the while Bennett continued to sit in the group led by Sergio Henao as the solo leader still held a 30 second lead. With 3km remaining Fabio Aru launched an attack from the group; it was nullified pretty quickly though by the patient Sky pace-setting but still Yates was holding his gap as Kwiatkowski was now left alone with Henao dropped.
With 2.3km to go George Bennett launched another attack and put the overall leader on the ropes as initially just Kwiatkowski and Teuns could go with him. However, with his podium companions staying with him he sat up and allowed the rest of the group to come back on. Bennett wasn’t quite finished yet and he hit the group again and then again; which dented Yates’ lead to 26 seconds with 1.3km to go.
At 1km to go the gap was down to 25 seconds and Yates – as it stood – would win the stage but not the tour. Kwiatkowski was forced to be at full stretch, though, and how much the race had taken out of him was now the major factor. With 500m to go for the bunch Thibaut Pinot made his move and that further dented the lead of Yates; although there was nothing they could do about the stage honours. The Brit would take the win, powering across the line before sitting up to celebrate. Despite one last attack from Bennett, it was Thibaut Pinot who took second place ahead of Davide Formolo of BORA-Hansgrohe, with Sam Oomen of Sunweb taking fourth ahead of the Kiwi.
Overall the battle for the win had been thrown up in the air on the final day as both Dylan Teuns and George Bennett found themselves off the podium in the end. Kwiatkowski kept his lead and secured the overall win by 15 seconds, with Simon Yates moving up to second place and Pinot third at 20 seconds; with Bennett finally finishing 4th at 24 seconds.