Team Sky refused to fall after rival Team Sunweb passed them in the closing kilometers of the third and final stage of the inaugural Hammer Series in Limburg, Netherlands on Sunday. Both teams were down to four riders as each frantically sprinted to the finish of the 44.7-kilometer Hammer Chase team time trial around Sittard-Geleen with Sky pulling out a thrilling overall victory by a single second to Sunweb, who captured the final stage by a 31-second margin but trailed by 32 seconds entering the day.
Teams raced on an extended version of Saturday’s Hammer Sprint course won by Trek-Segafredo, with starting order and time gaps determined by the two previous days of racing. Whoever crossed the finish line first claimed victory. Sky entered the day atop standings after two days, with Team Sunweb second, 32 seconds behind, followed by Italian Pro Continental team Nippo-Vini Fantini in third at one minute back.
Sky’s five-man line-up of Owain Doull, Jon Dibben, Tao Geoghegan-Hart, Danny van Poppel and Elia Viviani had to dig incredibly deep across three laps of a 14.9km circuit – and a late tactical move proved decisive in holding off Team Sunweb.
Team Sky had lost time-trial specialist Dibben on the third and final lap and Team Sunweb – who were also down to four riders – caught and passed them in the closing kilometers.
But Team Sky weren’t finished and when Van Poppel attacked down the inside of the final right-hand bend before the finish straight, it put the British team firmly in control.
In the final straight, Geoghegan Hart had to sprint to hold off three Sunweb riders – Max Walscheid was ahead of him, but Team Sky were the first team with four over the line.
“I had to bring them to the last corner in front and it was really close – but if I didn’t do that, we didn’t win,” said Van Poppel.
Van Poppel’s teammate added that the last-minute overtake was also a bit strategic as well.
“With those time gaps and that length of circuit, it was always going to be close,” explained Doull. “We thought just back off, recover and try and come past them in the last kilometre.”
Full race report and results to follow …