Full gas racing at the Saudi Tour
A lurking danger of echelons was present since the start of the penultimate Saudi Tour stage, but it materialised only with 50 kilometers to go, when the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl boys decided to take matters into their own hands and fragment the bunch in the savage crosswinds.
Five of our riders – Andrea Bagioli, Davide Ballerini, Tim Declercq, Jannik Steimle and Bert Van Lerberghe – made the cut and set a brisk tempo that left those distanced, including the GC leader, trailing by more than a minute at the start of the day’s only climb. There, the group began spatting riders out the back, but it was only when Andrea attacked that a proper selection was made. The brutal ascent of Harrat Uwayrid, averaging a stinging 12% over 2.8 kilometers, but featuring ramps of 22%, poured led into many legs and opened significant gaps.
Joined by Maxim Van Gils (Lotto-Soudal), Andrea rode valiantly, but the effects of Tuesday’s crash began being felt 500 meters from the top, when he got distanced on the viciously steep gradients. Showing the unique Wolfpack spirit, the 22-year-old rode his heart out as he attempted to reduce the gap, but was caught by a small group one kilometer from the line.
Having climbed admirably despite the gruelling gradients and the huge effort put in in the echelons, Tim Declercq was remarkably part of that group and he accelerated to take an impressive third place – his first podium since finishing runner-up behind Yves Lampaert at the 2020 Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne.
“The crosswinds made it very hard today, but the style of racing suited me, The climb wasn’t to my liking, but the stage until then was something different and I liked going on the offensive with the team as we split the peloton”, explained Tim, who sits fourth in the overall standings. “Andrea was strong and gave everything. While he was up the road, I remained in the chasing group and waited to see what would happen. I made a move with 200 meters to go, and even though it’s not the win we wanted, for me this podium is a good result, as I usually don’t have too many chances. I’m happy with my form, confident and ready to continue helping the team in the next races.”
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele / Getty Images