Max Stedman produced a brave performance on a gruelling final stage of the Tour de Yorkshire as Serge Pauwels and Omar Fraile claimed a one-two for Dimension Data.
The 21-year-old, from Berkshire, finished 23rd overall – only 1min 55sec down on Pauwels – after living with the very best climbers in the race until the final few kilometres.
Meanwhile, Dexter Gardias capped a fine weekend for BIKE Channel Canyon by retaining the most combative rider jersey won by Harry Tanfield on Saturday.
Gardias had three men for company when the day’s break stuck. ONE Pro Cycling’s Pete Williams, Madison Genesis rider Johnny McEvoy and 2016 Paris-Roubaix winner Matt Hayman were alongside him.
A further three then bridged across. They were Roompot’s Pieter Weening, Latvian champion Gatis Smukulis, who rides for Delko Marseille, and Lotto NL Jumbo’s Steven Lammertink.
The escapees enjoyed an advantage of four-and-a-half minutes at one point as they cruised towards the first of the day’s eight categorised climbs.
Weening then laid down his challenge for the mountains jersey, taking the first two – the Cote de Silsden and Cote de Haworth – with Gardias crossing the line in second and third place on the respective tests.
Gardias then broke the Dutchman’s stranglehold on the KOM points with victory on the Cote de Leeming before settling for second place again on the brutal cobbled Cote de Shibden Wall.
Williams punctured on the climb, which forced him to return to the peloton, before Hayman took the intermediate sprint in Clifton for World Tour outfit Orica-Scott.
The uncategorised climb in Holmfirth, ahead of the second intermediate sprint, then put paid to Gardias’ challenge. He was dropped as Weening ramped up the pressure at the front of the leading group, who now held a 90-second advantage over the peloton.
That lead did not last long, though, and the entire break was caught with 25km to go, shortly before the descent into Stockbridge, where Jonathan Hivert won the second and final intermediate sprint.
Serge Pauwels grabbed second and Hivert’s Direct Energie team-mate – and the reigning Tour de Yorkshire champion – Tommy Voeckler was third as the overall contenders hunted for bonus seconds.
The race was on then as they hit the finishing circuit and began the first of four climbs. Stedman was digging deep in a quickly-dwindling front group as little more than a dozen crested the summit of the Cote de Deepcar together.
Dimension Data had numbers, though, and set a fierce pace on the Cote de Wigtwizzle before their leader Pauwels jumped clear down the descent to open up a gap ahead of the penultimate climb.
On the steep slopes of the Cote de Ewden Height, Pauwels maintained extended his advantage to 30 seconds as his major rivals in the chasing group looked at one another.
Stedman was still there, towards the rear, as race descended towards the final climb, the Cote de Midhopestones. Pauwels held on to his slim advantage and was joined by Fraile as the riders crossed the line in twos and threes.
Pauwels won the race by six seconds, with Hivert third at seven. Brent Bookwalter, of BMC, was fourth, while Caleb Ewan was confirmed as the points winner and Weening held on to the