Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hnik breaks Iberian stranglehold; takes uphill finish into Santiago do Cacém

Former cyclocross rider Hnik breaks through in Alentejo (Photo: Volta ao Alentejo)

Carlos Barbero was surging towards the line for his first victory in nearly a year and was already thinking about the dedication he was going to give on the podium where he would thank his Euskadi team for their flawless work in delivering him to the line. This was all going to plan until Karel Hnik (Etixx) came up along side him and passed him in the last 50 meters to take his first win in Etixx colors since joining the team last year.

The day started off with a bad note as Optum's Ryan Anderson, who was 3rd on GC, was forced to pull out of the race after crashing hard in the finale of stage 3, which also took out his teammate Eric Young. With the American team being down their leader, Tom Soladay hopped into the day's main breakaway including Robin Carpenter (USA National), Haarvard Blikra (Oster Hus-Ridley), Antonio Carvahlo (LA Alumninios) and Portuguese RR Champion Joni Brandão, among others. The break soldiered on through the flat opening half of the race but with 40 kilometers left to go, Blikra and Brandão attacked the breakaway and kept going on their own for another 25 kilometers before the gave up after going over the KOM spot. The reduced peloton, which was shredded by the pace and undulating circuit in the finale, began to crank up the pace before the final climb to the finish.

The uphill finish was good in the it was steep enough to make the legs cry but not steep enough to blow everyone up and allowed for an exciting sprint finish. Barbero looked good to have it but Hnik came around him in the last 50 meters to get it for Etixx while Eduard Prades slotted into 3rd place. On the U23 front, Sven Erik Bystrøm finished 7th and Ryan Eastman (USA National) finished 8th, similar to their 3rd and 4th places from the day prior. Tanner Putt (USA National) finished safely in the peloton to keep his lead in the youth classification for another day.

The races finishes up tomorrow with a stage to the historic town of Evora, which the race has not visited since 2010. Barring any catastrophes, Carlos Barbero has the GC locked up but his Euskadi team will just need to make sure it stays together for a sprint. Byron Guama will probably want his Ecuador team covering early moves so he can protect his tight KOM lead while Tanner Putt can just keep doing what he has done to keep the youth classification.

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