Rory Townsend started the 183km Stage 3 of the Tour of Britain from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Newcastle-upon-Tyne intent on regaining the Eisberg Sprint leader’s red jersey from Gediminas Bagdonas (AG2R).
Townsend’s targets were to get into the break of the day which is easier said than done, then the three intermediate sprints at Seahouses (67km), Warkworth (107km) and Seaton Delaval (155km).
On a slightly damper and cooler day than experienced so far on the tour, Townsend was quick off the blocks and made the first potential break after 2km. As this group was brought back, Ryan Christensen made the potential second break of eight riders, but this looked too large a group to allow away so was also brought to heel.
Townsend went again with the third group initiated by Rob Scott (Team Wiggins Le Col) after 8km and this time the group of six also including Harry Tanfield (Team Katusha), Skoda UK KOM competition leader Jacob Scott (SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling), Christophe Noppe (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and Dries de Bont (Corendon-Circus) made the break of the day.
The three KOM points preceded the first Eisberg Sprint and the first and third of these were won by Jacob Scott who increased his lead in the Skoda UK KOM competition to 13 points and so retains the black jersey for at least another day. Noppe took the second KOM.
The six members of the break worked exceedingly well together with every rider taking their turn on the front, pushing the gap to the peloton close to the four minute mark.
The first two Eisberg Sprints were won by de Bont with Townsend in second place on both occasions. An unscheduled halt after 121km (due to the peloton being split either side of a closed level crossing) gave the breakaway riders an opportunity to confer on tactics for the remaining 60-odd kilometres of the stage.
Following the re-start the breakaway maintained their outstanding discipline in their attempt to take them to the finishing line before being caught by the chasing peloton.
To avoid any loss of time contesting the last Eisberg Sprint, Townsend led the breakaway through that point riding at ‘full chat’ with de Bont in second place.
Based on the empirical evidence that a peloton can close the gap to a breakaway at the rate of one minute per 10km, and with the gap being just under two minutes with 20km to go, it is was going to be a very close call as to whether the breakaway would be able to stay away.
With the GC leader Matteo Trentin’s Mitchelton-Scott team in conjunction with the Stage 1 winner Dylan Groenewegen’s Jumbo-Visma team relentlessly driving the pace onwards, the odds were shortening and the breakaway were caught just one kilometre from the finishing line and what might have been a glorious win for one of them.
After his sustained effort over the whole stage, Townsend successfully regained the Eisberg Sprint leader’s red jersey with a 16 to 13 points lead over de Bont, with Bagdonas in third place on 12 points. The popular local boy Harry Tanfield took the public vote to gain the Wahooligan Combativity Award.
Stage 3 was won by Groenewegen with Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) in second and Davide Cimolai (Israel Cycling Academy) in third. Trentin retains leadership of the GC.
The Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes finishing positions were: Alex Colman 30th, Ryan Christensen 51st (both at 8 sec), Rory Townsend 80th (at 40 sec), Matt Bostock 86th (at 55 sec), Tom Stewart 88th (at 1 min) and Andy Tennant 107th (at 5 min 43 sec). Christensen remains the best placed team rider on GC in 40th place (at 25 sec).
Stage 4 from Gateshead to Kendal has an Eisberg Sprint after just 12km which may be a target for Townsend, but otherwise it is one for the mountain goats and puncheurs with the Gawthorp KOM being a potential launch-point in the battle for GC honours.
Written by Paul and Marina Stedman.
Photo credits: all SWpix.com