The late attack on stage 3 of the Volta ao Algarve came as a surprise to the watching fans, with an eclectic and powerful sextet turning a straight-forward sprint stage into something entirely more dramatic. There were plenty caught out within the peloton, too, notably Soudal-QuickStep, whose director Tom Steels admitted his riders were “not sharp enough”.
After 25km of chasing, the peloton just about caught the group in the home straight, but by then the pre-stage favourite Fabio Jakobsen was lost in the mad scramble and finished in 18th position.
After a disappointing display on the opening day’s sprint in Lagos, the European champion, who was given heavy billing as the potential record-holder for stage wins at the Volta ao Algarve, will leave empty-handed.
The frustration was evident as Jakobsen wheeled back to his team bus in Tavira and declined to comment on his day.
“Why don’t you go and interview the winner,” he snapped.
Soudal-QuickStep initially seemed to be alert to the danger – or opportunity – presented by the intermediate sprint at 25km to go, which carried bonus seconds for the general classification. The team’s GC card, Ilan Van Wilder, who was a close second on Friday’s summit finish, was up towards the front of the bunch through the preceding roundabout but then faded from view as an elite group clipped away to contest the sprint and then stayed away until the final metres.
From there, the Belgian team, who’d helped control the breakaway for much of the day, were plunged into a far more frantic chase.
“At the intermediate, when they went, we knew it was all hands on deck to close the gap. If you see those guys going, it’s on every team to go full gas,” Steels told Cyclingnews. “They just made it in the last few hundred metres. That’s cycling. It’s a nice race to see but for us it was tough.”
While Ineos’ Michal Kwiatkowski radio-ed in from the bunch to tell his teammates – Filippo Ganna and Tom Pidcock – that they had a gap and should press on, QuickStep were perhaps caught off guard.
“We were, definitely,” said Casper Pedersen. “We know it can happen, but they went away quick. You saw the riders that went away, it’s not easy to catch them.”
Indeed, a six-man group going from 25km would not always pose such a threat, but this one was all-killer no-filler: Filippo Ganna, Tom Pidcock, Magnus Cort, Rui Costa, Tobias Foss, and Valentin Madouas.
“In cycling, you have to be sharp. We were not sharp enough,” Steels said, explaining that they should have had a representative in the break.
“We missed a guy in the front. If you have someone there, then you sit easy, and it’s more likely to come back for a bunch sprint.”
As for Jakobsen, the Dutchman struck his first victory of the season on his second day of racing at the Vuelta a San Juan but is still stuck on one. After being beaten by Sam Welsford (DSM) in the final two sprints in Argentina, it has proved a trying week in the Algarve.
“He’ll be disappointed, of course,” Steels said. “It’s not too easy, but he’s riding well. There are still many goals to come. If he doesn’t win here he’ll win somewhere else.”