George Bennett has finished third in stage 4 of the Tour de Pologne. The LottoNL-Jumbo climber moved up to third overall behind stage winner and new race leader Michal Kwiatkowski of Team Sky, with Dylan Teuns.
After three days for the sprinters the climbers arose to take centre stage in the 179km between Jaworzno and Szczyrk. Just two climbs featured en route to the line; plus the sharp uphill spurt to the finish. The climb of Szczyrku at 5.1km and 5.9% gradient and the Zameczek at 2.3km and 8.6% gradient were to be tackled twice each inside the final 76km.
An intense start to the day saw a number of riders try and infiltrate a breakaway, but eventually three riders broke free in the form of Bert Van Lerberghe of Cofidis, Mark Rutkiewicz of the Polish National Team and CCC Sprandi Polkowice’s Jan Tratnik. The trio were effective in forming a solid advantage and after 30km of racing their lead had grown to upwards of 5.45mins. But of the three it was Tratnik and Rutkiewicz who were strongest with Van Lerberghe being dropped early; and then Rutkiewicz following suit with 38.6km to go on the third ascent of the day.
Tratnik, at this point had an advantage of just over 2 minutes over the peloton; who were being conducted by Team Sky. Although a few other teams – including Lotto Soudal – had shown interest at the front of the race, it was largely the Sky train for Kwiatkowski who looked comfortable and in control. Also showing an interest at the front of the race were Groupama-FDJ, Mitchelton-Scott and BORA-Hansgrohe.
Good to be back in the mix after a good holiday up in the mountains. A few more days here in Poland to get the pins hissing for the vuelta. https://t.co/zyFgbJjAxk
— George Bennett? (@georgenbennett) August 7, 2018
Eventually Patrick Konrad of BORA-Hansgrohe, Ivan Rovny of Gazprom Rusvelo, George Preidler of Groupama-FDJ and Jorge Arcas of Movistar attacked from the bunch to try and bridge across to the leaders; and they succeeded in gapping the peloton by a little over 30 seconds with 26km to go. They were closing in on the lone leader Tratnik too, and the Slovenian was finally caught with around 18km remaining.
Tratnik did well to try and stay with the group, but with the bunch bearing down upon them the group needed to keep the intensity high if they were to stand any chance of victory and it wasn’t long before Tratnik was dropped and it essentially four leaders vs Team Sky who were dragging a much fragmented peloton along behind them.
With the Slovenian dropped, the four leaders had 29 seconds in hand with 15km to go. Team Sky had Movistar and Bahrain-Merida on their train, and the gap was closing rapidly. George Bennett was in the upper third of the peloton close to UAE Team Emirates’ Fabio Aru but so far keeping a rather inconspicuous figure and not showing his cards just yet.
Finally the catch was made to the breakaway group with just under 13km remaining, and from there Team Sky proceeded onwards on the final big climb of the day. Their pace was harsh enough that it put off any attacks, which meant that on the run in to the finishing climb – that was just over 500m in length – a rather large group of contenders was still present.
The swift descent towards the finish saw Mitchelton-Scott and BMC Racing challenge for the front, but with the finish line coming closer all the time it was looking a bit like George Bennett was just a little far back in positioning himself for the finishing sprint. With 3km to go he was about 40 riders back in a bunch that was careering towards the finish at speeds upwards of 60kph.
With 1.7km to go it was BORA-Hansgrohe vs BMC Racing vs Trek-Segafredo, but steadily George Bennett was getting into a better position, moving up to around 15th place as the road started to rise. With 1km to go Movistar made their move, with an attack going up the road with Richard Carapaz attacking and being pursued by Dylan Teuns. All the while Bennett was waiting with 600m to go.
Carapaz looked like he might have done enough to take the honours as Teuns was brought back to heel, but then the road kicked up again with Quick-Step Floors’ Laurens De Plus leading the chase across. Still with 300m to go Carapaz looked in control as Michal Kwiatkowski then made his move to the front of the group. Bennett at this stage was sitting in about 10th place as the road truly ramped right up; and Carapaz finally cracked.
Teuns made another move with 200m to go and was pursued by Kwiatkowski and as the Pole sprinted for the line so too did Bennett, coming around Daniel Moreno of EF Education First-Drapac and a fading Enrico Gasparotto of Bahrain-Merida to take third place behind Dylan Teuns and the victorious Kwiatkowski who just proved too powerful in the end.
The result means that Kwiatkowski now sits in the overall lead with an 8 second buffer to Dylan Teuns and 10 seconds to George Bennett.
— LottoNLJumbo Cycling (@LottoJumbo_road) August 7, 2018
After the stage Bennett was full of praise for the way his team rode throughout the stage. “The entire team did a great job today,” Bennett said post-stage. “The team perfectly protected me throughout the day. Everyone really contributed. In the end, we still were with three men in the front group. Enrico [Battaglin] did a great job putting me in a good position for the final climb.”
When it came to the final climb Bennett was wise in his approach; aware of how monstrously steep it would be. “That climb was very steep, so you had to be smart in the way you used your energy and not to be in the front too early. It was a climb for punchers, so not really suitable for me. I’m happy with this third place. It’s a confirmation that I’m heading in the right direction towards the Vuelta.”