The opening stage of the Tour of Slovenia saw Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Greenedge) take the win ahead of Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) and Scott Thwaites (Bora-Argon 18), from a small group sprint.
Many thought the 177km stage from Ljubljana to Koper would be one for the sprinters and the stage began like most sprint stages do. 5 riders got away early on and then our Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka riders along with Team Sky, controlled the gap for the majority of the stage.
With 20km to go Androni and Vini Fantini took advantage of the final category 3 climb to force the pace and subsequently split the peloton into pieces. Over the top, the group wasn’t much more than 50 riders large and our African Team had Omar Fraile and Kristian Sbaragli in the front split.
The break was caught just before the 2 local laps in Koper started. On the circuit there was a small climb but nobody expected it to be as hard as what it was. Attacks came from Katusha and Greenedge the first time up the climb and the lead group was put under futher pressure. On the final lap when the acceleration came on the climb once again, the race exploded.
A group of 5 riders got a small gap on another small group of about 8 riders. Fraile and Sbargli were both part of this chasing group. Sbaragli tried to get across to the leaders on his own as we were running out of road, and quickly. It wasn’t to be for Italian and the front group arrived at the finish just a couple of meters ahead of the Fraile and Sbaragli group. In the end Fraile took 6th on the line while Sbaragli was 8th on the stage.
Omar Fraile – Rider
It was a much harder stage than we thought with a very hard finish because of the 2 local laps that had a hard climb. In the final I stayed to help Kristian but the group was so small and I went with the wheels in the end. My sensations are good at the moment so I look forward to tomorrow’s tough stage.
Alex Sans Vega – Sport Director
We had two options today depending on how the race unfolded. Obviously we had Cav as one option for a big sprint and then Kristian if it was harder with a smaller group. We controlled the race all day with Sky right up to 20km to go when Androni and Vini Fantini went really deep on the climb. Cavendish was distanced and we only had Omar and Kristian in the front group now. With only 2 guys it was difficult to control and guys like Ulissi attacked really hard. Kristian tried to close them down in the last kilometers as they only had a few meters. It was risky, it was a good try but he didn’t succeed so those front guys made it to the final even though they all finished with the same time. It was a tactical final with some game playing, we could have been up there for the win but we had two guys in the top 10 which is not bad. It also showed the good shape of Kristian and that Omar’s is also coming up.