Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thüringen Rundfahrt: Herklotz pulling out all the stops through stage 4

Coming into the Thüringen Rundfahrt, I was on the fence about Silvio Herklotz chances in the biggest German U23 race of the year. Herklotz was racing with the German U23 National Champion jersey on his back and he was obviously ready to give it a go on the climbs. The big question mark was how his form would be holding up. After a strong early spring followed by an unexpected rest due to a crash in the GP Palio del Recioto, Herklotz has been exceeding expectations (well the mastermind of EC saw this coming) of many people with strong stage race performances in Istria, Szlakiem Grodow Piastowskich, Bayern Rundfahrt and now Thüringen. While his climbing is impressive, his long TT skills were just average with a 51st in Bayern Rundfahrt (31.2k course, 2:51 down on winner Malori and 1 second down on Joe Dombrowski) and 25th in Szlakiem (2 minutes down on Jan Barta on a 30.2k course). Thursday's TT will be of vital importance if he has wants to keep a hold on his GC lead...but I am getting ahead of myself.

Prologue 4.1km Sülzbrücken to Holzhausen

It was Damien Howson (Australia) who took the short affair ahead of a flying Lasse Norman Hansen (Denmark) by just one seconds to take the inaugural stage of the Thüringen Rundfahrt. On a slightly uphill course, speeds were still quick and the top riders were separated by mere seconds. Early in the day, it was Australian Adam Phelan who set a best time that stood for a while until Peace Race prologue winner Rasmus Sterobo (Denmark) overtook him. Michael Vink, the New Zealander who has finally found his legs in Europe this year, was the next one to take over the hot seat after storming the course to finish a six hundredths of a second better than Sterobo.

Vink's time in the hot seat wasn't long because after Herklotz came in top 10, it was Hansen who laid down a storming ride, going 3 seconds better than Vink, and seemingly had a lock on the leader's jersey. Jasha Sütterlin, the German U23 TT champ from home team Thüringer Energie, was off the mark and Dylan van Baarle, the newly crowned Dutch U23 champ for Rabobank, couldn't get close either. It came down to the last rider and it was Howson, last year's U23 World TT bronze medalist and current Australian U23 champion, who was over a second quicker than Hansen on the line and slipped into the yellow tunic.

Top 10

  1. Howson 4'52"
  2. Hansen +1"
  3. Vink +4"
  4. Sterobo s.t.
  5. Phelan +5"
  6. TJ Eisenhart (USA) +8"
  7. Herklotz s.t.
  8. van Baarle s.t.
  9. Sütterlin s.t. 
  10. Ivan Savitskiy (Russia) s.t.

Stage 1 170km "Rund um die Hainleite" Erfurt-Erfurt 

While a difficult race, the Thüringen Rundfahrt is not one where big time gaps will be made on the road stages and without time bonuses, a rider will need to have some balls to move himself up the GC before any time trials. The Rund um die Hainleite is one of the oldest one-day classics in Germany but as a one-day race, it has been defunct since 2007. Thankfully, it has been incorporated into the Thüringen Rundfahrt since 2008 and provides an excellent hilly course. The Hainleite is simply a Muschelkalk ridge which dates back to the mid-Triassic period and is one of the oldest in Germany. 

A break of four got up the road early and spent the first half of the race away as the peloton was preparing for the difficult finale. Martijn Tusveld (Rabobank Devo), Michael Vanthourenhout (BKCP), Magnus Nielsen (Denmark) and Tim Schlichenmaier (Bergstrasse-Jenatec) formed the break and it was Nielsen who attacked the KOM points and built up a dominate lead. Then the heavens opened...

Buckets of rain, the same that had been pounding Germany for weeks and causing massive floods, fell on the riders as they hit the finishing circuits, where they were going three times over the 12% Arnstädter Hollow climb. With the breakaway swept up and rain and wind pounding, the riders lit up the course. It was first Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-iHNed) and then another breakaway that went up the road in the finale. Adam Phelan, Kristian Haugaard (Denmark) and Lukasz Wisniowski (Etixx-iHNed) that got away on the Arnstädter and were quickly joined by David van der Poel (BKCP), Mike Teunissen (Rabobank Devo) and Patrick Konrad (Etixx-iHNed). On the final climb, it was Silvio Herklotz himself leading the charge.

The lanky Herklotz powered his way up to the breakaway and it was only Wisniowski who could follow him with 2 kilometers to go as the duo got a gap and stuck it to the line. Wisniowski was much fresher and easily took the stage over the Berliner but Herklotz gained valuable seconds and slipped into 3rd overall, two seconds behind race leader Howson. Behind, it was Haugaard who lead the remnants of the peloton in for 3rd. A notable exception was Frederik Ludvigsson, who struggled with bad legs after a subpar prologue performance.

Top 10

  1. Wisniowski 4:36'58"
  2. Herklotz s.t.
  3. Haugaard +4"
  4. Lasse Normann Hansen all s.t.
  5. Magnus Nielsen
  6. Rick Zabel (Rabobank Devo)
  7. Simon Yates (GB)
  8. Christopher Hatz (Bergstrasse Jenatec)
  9. Phelan
  10. Max Werda (Stölting)

Willi Willwohl, the up and coming sprinter with LKT Brandenburg, crashed seriously with a race vehicle and shattered his forearm along with cutting his knee. He is in stable condition but the triple stage winner from the Tour de Berlin is out for an indefinite period.

Stage 2 185.8k Behringen-Behringen

On the longest day of the "Rund", Team Stölting's Jan Dieteren repeated his stage winning performance from last year as he beat out the Rabobank Devo duo of Nick van der Lijke and Rick Zabel in a bunch sprint.

The day started out with another breakaway including the excitable Tim Schlichenmaier from stage 1, Wietse Bosmans (BKCP), Jonas Rickaert (Ovyta-Eijssen), Aydar Gareyshin (Russia) and Hayden McCormick (New Zealand). With Schlichenmaier going after the sprint points, the breakaway stayed relatively intact and eventually with just 5km it was just the German and McCormick left. McCormick put in an attack, a move which Schlichenmaier criticized post-stage as a waste of energy, and disrupted the duo's rhythm. With 1 kilometer to go, Rabobank shut the duo down and were all hands on deck for the sprint. With the final bend around the 300m to go sign, Dieteren was dropped into place by his Stölting team and hit the after burners and held off a charging van der Lijke. Howson kept his overall lead but the hills were looming.

Top 10

  1. Jan Dieteren (Stölting) 4:37'02"
  2. van der Lijke all s.t.
  3. Zabel
  4. David van der Poel (BKCP)
  5. Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-iHNed)
  6. Ruben Geerinckx (Ovyta-Eijssen)
  7. Savitskiy
  8. Florian Senechal (Etixx-iHNed)
  9. Owain Doull (GB)
  10. Caleb Ewan (Australia)

Stage 3 152.9k Neuhaus-Neuhaus

It is official. Silvio Herklotz has a touch of crazy in him. Herklotz is crazy strong on the hills and being only two seconds back on race leader Damien Howson, one might hold back until a little later to put in the big attack to try and wrestle the jersey away from the Australian. Yeah, that didn't happen.

Under cloudy skies, the race headed on the queen stage route where there would be no holds barred. It was Magnus Nielsen, keen on defending his mountains jersey, who lept out early solo to collect the precious points. After cresting the 3rd KOM with an almost unassailable lead, Nielsen was overtaken by Herklotz and Russian Alexander Foliforov, who set out for 25 kilometers out front alone as the skies once again opened up with rain. At the summit of the next KOM, it was Herklotz, a man just 2 seconds off the lead mind you, who attacked his breakaway partner and set out alone with nearly 35km to go. His gap was nearly two minutes before the final climb started but a charging pack whittled down to his advantage to just 30 seconds with five kilometers to go. Herklotz, running out of energy, tried desperately to hold on but with only one kilometer to go, it was Julian Alaphilippe and Simon Yates who joined him and the birthday boy Alaphilippe, the Frenchman who has been on a torrid streak of form, outsprinted Yates and a dissapointed and exhausted Herklotz, shortly behind. Behind, it was David van der Poel (BKCP) taking the sprint 14 seconds back on Alaphilippe over Lasse Normann and Sam Spokes (Etixx-iHNed). Herklotz, while dissapointed on losing out on the stage, was consoled somewhat with the yellow jersey, now on his back after Damien Howson faltering and finishing 38 seconds back on him.

Silvio is crazy but we need more of him in the peloton. Great rides were put in by his Stölting teammates Mager and Werda, as the latter is up to 9th overall. 

Top 10
  1. Alaphilippe
  2. Yates +4"
  3. Herklotz +6"
  4. van der Poel +14"
  5. Normann Hansen all s.t.
  6. Sam Spokes (Etixx-iHNed)
  7. van der Lijke
  8. Christian Mager (Stölting)
  9. Werda
  10. Felix Großschartner (Austria)

Stage 4 163.6k Langewiesen - Langewiesen 

Finally, some flat terrain for the sprinters to shine and shine they did. Still only 18, Caleb Ewan got a better draw than on stage 2 and was able to make a devastating gap over the charging Ruben Geerinckx (Ovyta-Eijssen) and Julian Alaphilippe to take an excited victory. This stage was not without heartbreak.

A large breakaway formed early but over the rolling parcours, it was whittled down to just two in Maximillian Schachmann (Thüringer Energie) and Robert Pölder (Sweden). The duo had a two minute gap at one point but this was whittled down over time and it was tight with one lap to go. Pölder was spent and dropped and Schachmann tried valiantly to hold on for a home team win but with only a few hundred meters to go, the peloton picked him up on the way to a bunch sprint. Schachmann was distraught after crossing the line, having wanted this win so badly.

Caleb Ewan launched himself off of Rick Zabel and put in a great kick and Geerinckx could only hold onto his back wheel. Ewan's sprint at 18 looks as if he could mix it up with the World Tour. His style reeks of Cavendish and as long as he gets in good position, there is nearly no U23 rider that can beat him. In 3rd, it was Julian Alaphilippe, whose multi-faceted talents should have teams craving for his signature.

Top 10

  1. Ewan
  2. Geerinckx
  3. Alaphilippe
  4. Zabel
  5. Alex Frame (Thüringer Energie)
  6. Wisniowski
  7. Dieteren
  8. Mager
  9. Mamyr Stash (Russia)
  10. Andreas Hofer (Austria)
Herklotz' hold on yellow is tenuous, with only 7 seconds on Lasse Normann and a whole host of others just a short ways back, and will have to put in the TT of his short U23 career to keep within a shouting distance of yellow.

Also, on the 4th stage, two horses ran into the peloton when they went through Langewiesen and for a whole kilometer, the two thoroughbreds sprinted through the peloton. That might scare some just a wee bit.

The Time Trial awaits...

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