Posted by Editoress on 06/15/14
Tom Skujins (Hincapie Sportswear) celebrated his 23rd birthday in fine style on Sunday, winning the final stage of the Tour de Beauce to cement his overall victory. In addition to the Yellow Jersey, Skujins also took the Points Jersey and Best Young Rider Jersey, plus his team took the Best Team title. The only Jersey he didn't take was the Climber's (which went to Team SmartStop's Joshua Berry), where he finished second in the competition.
Canadian riders had a strong final day also, with Rob Britton (Team SmartStop) finishing second to Skujins in the stage and jumping from fourth to second in the overall standings, while Mike Woods (Amore Vita-Selle SMP) was fourth on the stage to finish sixth overall, plus Ryan Roth (Silber Pro Cycling) moved up to ninth overall and Garrett McLeod (H&R Block) to tenth overall.
Last lap starts w. Rob Britton in the lead
Tom Skujins wins stage 5
Top team Hincapie Sportswear Development Cycling
For his birthday Skujins received a bottle of bubbly with a sparkler
The final stage of Beauce is a deceptively difficult one that has rearranged the overall standings on more than one occasion. This year, organizers made the decision to end it at the top of the 1.5 kilometre climb that dominates the 10.4 kilometre circuit which the riders cover 12 times. While the climb is certainly the hardest feature, the riders also have to contend with constant acceleration and braking as they twist and turn through the residential streets of St-Georges. At least, for the first time in four days, it didn't rain...
The stage was so difficult that only 51 finished the entire Tour, after 101 were listed following the previous stage. Two did not start the final stage, but a staggering 48 were DNFs.
The usual tactic for teams with hopes of moving up the standings is to constantly put pressure on the race leader's squad, hoping that they will crack and leave the Yellow Jersey vulnerable. It has happened on more than one occasion, but this time Skujins was just too strong.
"The guys have sacrificed for me at this stage," Skujins said, "and one of them even left some of his skin on the asphalt when he crashed. It really is a beautiful day, the most beautiful of my life, the other being that it is my birthday."
The first break went on the first lap, eventually building to ten riders, including Pierrick Naud (Garneau-Quebecor), Kyle Buckosky (H&R Block), Mountain leader Berry and Timothy Roe (Budget Forklifts), who was the danger man at 1:53 behind Skujins on GC. Berry was piling up some early KoM points, ensuring he would win the Jersey, while Roe and team mate Joshua Prete were driving the pace.
The gap went out to a minute, but the Hincapie team did not panic, riding a strong tempo at the front which gradually started to pull back the break. As the gap dropped, Javier Megias (Novo Nordisk) shot across from the bunch, going straight through the break and off the front solo on lap seven. This led to the ultimate demise of the break, as others began attacking out of the peloton, with Skujins latching onto the wheel of Kirk Carlsen (Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis), and the two joining Megias at the front of the race with three and a half laps to go.
Carlsen's move was a strange one tactically, since it isolated his team mate Serghei Tvetcov, who was second on GC. As the bunch exploded, Britton, Woods, Bruno Langlois (5Hr Energy) and Arturo Calderon (4-72 Colombia) joined Skujins, Carlsen and Megias at the front. Megias was dropped by the others, who then began to drive the pace, with all but Skujins hoping to improve their place in the final standings.
"This is the way to race," said Skujins, "and the philosophy of Team Hincapie wants to fight until the end. This is the most difficult stage after the Mont Mégantic and there was pressure to keep the yellow jersey. I had to keep the strength in my legs to make it to the line."
Behind, the chase had broken into three distinct groups, with Asbjorn Kragh (Christine Watches-Kuma) struggling in the second group, as he watched his Points Jersey and third place overall disappearing up the road. Tvetcov was in the next group behind, and he was also losing his second place overall.
Britton was leading up the climbs, and the group looked to have enough of a gap by the start of the final lap that they would not be caught. Langlois flatted in the second to last lap, so it was down to five at the front. While Britton and Woods were looking to improve their ranking, Skujins was looking to cap the week off with another stage win.
Woods attacked at the bottom of the climb, with only Skujins, Calderon and Britton able to follow. When the Amore Vita rider faded at about 500 metres to go, Skujins surged. Britton and Calderon initially went with him, but Skujins surged again with 150 metres and neither could respond as the young Latvian cruised across the line with his arms in the air. Britton was able to hold off Calderon for second.
"Yesterday it was all about survival, but I felt amazing today," explained Britton. "I know from past years that this course is bloody hard, and this is probably the hardest iteration of it. It was a good day to feel good."
"There were a lot of people motivated with the way the time gaps were. First was a way off, but second through 15th were within about a minute. So that created a very aggressive situation. Chapeau to Tom [Skujins], he didn't sit on and earned every bit of that Yellow Jersey today. When he kicked with 150 metres to go, all I could do was watch."