Julien Vermote (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) won the seventh and penultimate stage of the Tour of Britain on Saturday.
Vermote rode in a five-man break all day until the penultimate (Ditchling Beacon) climb of the 226-kilometer stage, at which point he took off and began a solo effort to the finish line in Brighton, on England’s south coast.
With several groups chasing him, Vermote was able to remain out front and ride to the victory. Ignatas Konovalovas (MTN-Qhubeka) placed second.
“Today I was really surprised with how good I felt, because except for one day here I’ve ridden on the front,” Vermote said. “Five days out of six I pulled for the team, one of those stages I was on the front the whole stage. But every day I recovered well. … Today the team said I should go, and if the move would not win the stage, maybe Kwiato [Kwiatkowski] and I could work together in the final kilometers.
“On the second-to-last climb I decided to go, because I knew it was possible for a victory. I knew it was a risk and I made sure I went full gas. I really wanted to win a stage because so many riders on this team have at least one victory. Now I have joined them and I am super happy.”
Dutch rider Dylan van Baarle (Garmin-Sharp) took third and seized the race lead from Alex Dowsett (Movistar). Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma) was fourth and is now second overall, 19 ticks behind van Baarle. Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani-CSF) is third at 25 seconds back.
The GC contenders were packed together in a handful of groups as the finish line drew closer. Dowsett was on teammate Giovanni Visconti’s wheel during the Ditchling Beacon climb, a 1.5-kilometer ascent that began with 17.6km to go. But Dowsett was passed going up by another GC group that contained Kwiatkowski, Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo), Bradley Wiggins (Sky), and several others.
Another climb, which peaked with 6.1km remaining, was followed by a fast descent into the finishing area in Brighton. Dylan Teuns (BMC), who sits fifth overall on GC after Saturday unsuccessfully tried to get away.
“Everything came back because it was a big road and a fast decent,” Teuns said. “That was a little bit disappointing.”
The front GC group cruised down the hill more than half a minute ahead of Dowsett.
At the bottom of the descent, Dowsett and Visconti had two other riders with them, but the foursome could not make up the gap to the group ahead.
Dowsett had taken the race lead in Friday’s stage 6 from Kwiatkowski, who held the jersey for two days.
The Tour of Britain ends Sunday with two stages in London — the 8.8km stage 8a time trial and the 89km stage 8b.
“It’s hard to control everything in a race,” said Kwiatkowski. “We accelerated on the second-to-last climb and dropped Dowsett, but it was hard to close the gap on the group between Vermote and us. But OK, I’m only 19 seconds down. There is the time trial tomorrow which I said earlier in this race that it would be important, even if it’s short. Anything can happen. I have done well on short time trials like the one of tomorrow. So we will see. But today we are going to celebrate the big victory of Julien.”
Olympic time-trial champion Wiggins, the first Englishman to win the Tour de France, played down his chances of retaining his 2013 title come Sunday’s concluding TT in London which sees him 47 seconds off the lead.
“[Taking the lead] is a big ask over 8.8 kilometers,” Wiggins said on the Team Sky website. “But you never know with crashes and punctures, anything can happen. I think a podium is more realistic. At the end of the day it’s about going out there and trying to win the stage.”