Volta ao Algarve em Bicicleta
Stage 5) FARO / ALTO DO MALHÃO (LOULÉ)
Zdenek Stybar seals the win on Alto do Malhão
Zdenek Stybar basked in his first win in almost two years, on the final day of Volta ao Algarve, which took the bunch from Faro to Alto do Malhão, the most iconic climb of the region, where for the fourth consecutive year hosted the last stage of the race. Stybar, who kickstarted his 2019 campaign in Portugal, became the seventh different rider of Deceuninck – Quick-Step to earn a victory in the two months that have passed since the start of the season.
“I am very happy, because in the past two years I have always been on the attack on this stage and in 2018 I was caught with one kilometer to go, but now I finally managed to finish it off. It’s a big reward for me, it’s my first victory of the season and it augurs well ahead of the Classics, where I hope to be in the best shape”, an ecstatic Zdenek said after the podium ceremony.
The winning move took shape on the penultimate climb of the day, Alto de Vermelhos, where the Czech responded to an attack of Soren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb). A lack of reaction from the yellow jersey or his team helped the two extend their gap to 30 seconds by the time they crested the ascennt and soon bridge to the remnants of the huge breakaway group which had took off early in the stage and still contained Tim Declercq, who put in a solid stint at the front for his teammate, before the attacking duo went clear again.
On the run-in to Alto do Malhão (2.5 kilometers, 9.9%), Steven Cummings (Dimension Data) joined them, but the Brit was dropped on the lower slopes of the climb, where attacks started flying from the reduced group, which Enric Mas duly shut down, before launching a move of his own. In the meantime, at the front, Zdenek dispatched his companion with 300 meters to go and powered to Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s second win of the week in Portugal, after the one of Fabio Jakobsen in Lagos, and tenth of the season.
“I joined that attack because I felt there was a chance of going all the way, as I knew that the up-and-down parcours would favour such an action and make things difficult for the chasers. The victory is important because it serves as confirmation of the good winter preparation I’ve had and also a confidence boost. It was a perfect day for us, with me taking the victory, Tim featuring in the breakaway and Enric showing his strong legs in the final”, said Zdenek, sixth in the GC, after becoming the 12th different Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider to claim a stage at the Volta ao Algarve.
Enric Mas – who also made his season debut here – concluded the race a strong fourth in the general classification, just a few seconds shy off the overall podium, while the hard-working Tim Declercq – who throughout the week controlled the breakaways, be it on the flat or hills – spent the entire stage in the escape, picking up valuable KOM points (including at the first ascent of Malhão), a raid for which he was rewarded with the best climber jersey.
“Normally my job is to catch the breakaways and to help the team, but today I got green light to join the escape group and do my own race”, a smiling Tim explained. “Taking the points on the climbs wasn’t the plan, but I began scoring them here and there and ended up going onto the podium after the stage. It’s not often that I win something, so I am very happy with this result and how our week went in Portugal.”
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images