The penultimate stage of the Volta ao Algarve ended in a bunch kick with the winner, Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) only confirmed as the victor after judges had a look at the finish-line photo. John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) were both millimeters away from the win, but had to settle for 2nd and 3rd respectively.
It was a rather long stage at 203km but the mostly flat parcours meant it was a day for the sprinters. A group of 5 riders got away in the early part of the stage, later becoming 3 with Ryan Mullen (Cannondale-Drapac), Dion Smith (Wanty Groupe Gobert) and Taco van der Hoon (Roompot) going clear.
The team of the yellow jersey LottoNL-Jumbo controlled the first half of the race but then it was our African Team, Quickstep-Floors and Lotto-Soudal that took over the pace setting. Natnael Berhane was very strong today, putting in some big turns in order to bring back the trio that was really motoring up the read. Eventually Johann van Zyl and Ben King both had to move to the front as added reinforcement to the chase.
It took every ounce of effort out off the our African Team and Quickstep chasers to bring back the leaders who only surrender inside of 2km to go. With fewer resources to work with, Scott Thwaites, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Mark Cavendish had to leave their surge to the front until very late.
Just before the final right hand bend, the frantic jostle for position saw our three fast finishers become detached from each others wheels. Boasson Hagen got through the last bend in the bast shape and went on to contest the sprint. Greipel was the strongest on the day, only just, with our Norwegian taking 10th place.
Alex Sans Vega – Rider
We were really focused for today’s stage and to ride for Mark. Our plan was to not allow more than 4 riders in the break and the reason for that was there were a lot sections of tailwind in the last 70km, so you don’t want a big group away in that situation. With 65km to go we sent Natnael to start working because the gap was not decreasing and the tailwind was becoming stronger. Once we put Natnael there then the other teams started to join. It was taking a lot of energy to close the gap and with 25km to go we had to add Johann and Ben. Finally the break was back with 3km to go. In the final we still had Scott and Edvald to help Mark. It was a really fast final and Mark was boxed in through one of the roundabouts and lost the wheel. He tried to come back but there was no way through. He spent a lot of energy trying to coming back and then it was too late to do a proper sprint. Edvald had to do the sprint instead because he was further forward. It was not a good result, not what we expected but the commitment of the team was there to support Mark. Also I think Mark will come out after this race with really good shape for the next races. This race is still not over, tomorrow is a hilly stage and for sure we will be part of the action. We are not going to go home without fighting for the stage.