Stef Clement (Belkin) overpowered a disintegrating breakaway to win stage 6 of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya on Saturday.
Clement was one of nine riders that got off the front early in the 172km stage from El Vendrell to Vilanova and were still battling the wind in the final 40km, three and a half minutes ahead of the peloton, led by Lampre-Merida, Lotto-Belisol and Tinkoff-Saxo.
With him were Pieter Serry (Omega Pharma-Quick Step); Damien Howson (Orica-GreenEdge); Pierre Rolland (Europcar); Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing); Rudy Molard (Cofidis); Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural); Marek Rutkiewicz (CCC-Polsat); and Nico Sijmens (Wanty-Groupe Gobert).
The escapees seemed to struggle in the final 20km, but with 10km remaining they were still hanging together, until Voigt dropped to the back of the group and then lit it up.
That was the signal for the break to begin eating itself alive as the peloton closed to within 1:25, with Ag2r joining Lampre on the front. Molard and Rolland tried to get away, with no success. And as the escapees battled, the bunch was inching ever closer with 5km remaining.
Serry attacked inside the final 4km, dogged by Howson, and then Sijmens and Voigt followed. But the others fought back up, and it was anybody’s stage to win.
Then Clement punched it, instantly opening a huge gap as he flew under the red kite.
The others hesitated, and the four-time Dutch time trial champ — wearing the king of the mountains jersey here — pounded away to the stage win ahead of Molard, with Serry third. Tosh van der Sande (Lotto-Belisol) led the peloton in 55 seconds later.
“I don’t win many races, so this is great. The fact that this is a WorldTour race makes it extra special,” said Clement. “I’m going to enjoy this to the fullest. This victory is a nice reward for the team. We’ve had some bad luck as Wilco dropped out of the top 10 after a crash, but we have shown resilience and were in every break in the last few days. This win makes up for all the bad luck. I really feel that the guys are happy for me.”
Serry was disappointed to have missed a shot at victory, but said he hoped for other opportunities.
“I have to say I felt strong enough to try to go for the win at this race. I think with a little bit of luck it really could have happened,” he said. “But okay, it’s the first time I was in that situation where there was a long time in the breakaway with a small group that could fight for the win. It’s good experience and it’s a big race for the team. We only miss a victory, but we are always there. I am a little disappointed, but I will try again and if there will be another occasion in the future I hope I can have a personal victory.”
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) continues to lead the overall by four seconds over Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), with Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) third at seven seconds.