dwin Ávila (Team Illuminate) is the first stage winner of the 2017 Sibiu Cycling Tour. After an 180 km breakaway, the former Colombian champion and two-time world track champion denied the all-expected bunch sprint and celebrated a fantastic solo victory in front of the spectators on Sibiu's Bulevardul Victoriei.
43 seconds later, the sprint for second place was won by Eduard Grosu (Team Romania) ahead of Simone Ponzi (CCC Sprandi Polkowice). With his victory, Ávila also secured the yellow jersey for the leader of the race, the intermediate sprint jersey and the points jersey. Grosu defended the red jersey of the highest-placed Romanian rider, Gašper Katrašnik (Adria Mobil) is still the best young rider in the race and Ávila's breakaway companion Moritz Fußnegger (0711|Cycling) took the green jersey for the best climber.
Ávila's victory came as a surprise as a bunch sprint was the expected outcome, even though the stage was far from flat with seven classified climbs in the rolling terrain and three intermediate sprints. After the sign-in on the Piața Mare that saw yesterday's prologue and a short neutral section, the 211.8 km stage started in the city outskirts. Immediately the road went uphill to the first mountain sprint (category C) above Șura Mare after just 7.3 km, providing a perfect springboard for attacking riders looking to make the break of the day. Those first breakaway attempts didn't immediately succeed though, and it took another 25 km for a break of the day to establish.
On the second category C climb to Șeica Mare, Moritz Fußnegger (0711|Cycling) and Edwin Ávila (Team Illuminate) went clear and built a small advantage over the chasing peloton. Facundo Lezica (Tușnad Cycling Team) was trying to close the gap to the front on his own, but since the pace was rapid with the race covering 51 km in the first hour, he was unable to do so, nor could the two escapees establish an advantage of more than two minutes at first.
54 km into the race the gap was still hovering around two minutes with teams chasing behind, dissatisfied with the situation on the road. Eventually, though, the Androni - Sidermec - Bottecchia team of race leader Andrea Palini took over, letting the gap to the two escapees go out to almost 8 minutes over the following 30 kilometres.
With an unexpected change of weather and strong wind mixed with rain showers, CCC Sprandi Polkowice seized the opportunity to split the peloton in two and improve the chances for their sprinter Simone Ponzi to take the stage win later on in Sibiu. Quick men Andrea Palini and Eduard Grosu (Team Romania) were caught out in the second part of the bunch, but since there were over 130 km still to go, the team in orange quickly realised that it would be too big an effort to keep the high pace until the finish. The peloton regrouped, the team of the yellow jersey took control of affairs again, and halfway through the stage the gap between the front duo and the peloton stabilised at around five minutes.
Moritz Fußnegger and Edwin Ávila had a long day out front, but they both got rewarded for their efforts.
The two escapees had fought out most of the climbs and intermediate sprints between themselves, Ávila winning the sprints and Fußnegger leading in the mountain classification before the final category B climb to Apoldu. On the foot of that ascent and with a 2:45 gap to the peloton, Ávila attacked his breakaway companion who was unable to follow but secured the green jersey by coming second atop the climb.
In ever-changing weather conditions, the peloton took a breather after the last intermediate sprint, allowing Ávila to enlarge his advantage to four minutes with 20 kilometres to go. Only then did the sprinters' teams react and started chasing in earnest, but the Team Illuminate rider managed to hold onto a 43-second advantage and could celebrate a fantastic solo victory on Sibiu's Bulevardul Victoriei. That advantage combined with the bonus seconds collected underway was enough for Ávila to overcome his deficit from yesterday's prologue, making him not only the first Colombian stage winner in the history of the Sibiu Cycling Tour, but also the first Colombian to wear the yellow race leader's jersey.
Ávila said: "I wanted to win today's stage, but I didn't expect to do it in this fashion. It's my first win in Europe! I did a 40-km ITT at the end, first I was told the gap was only about a minute, then they corrected it to four minutes, and I knew that if I gave it everything I had, I could have a chance. I will try to defend the jerseys, especially the yellow one, on the coming stages – it will be hard since I'm better-known as a fast guy, but I'm not a Colombian for nothing."
Team Illuminate sports director Chris Johnson added: "We're always riding aggressively and wanted to try something with Edwin today. It wasn't the plan for him to go in the break, but when they had a six-minute advantage, we decided to go for it. The other rider told us early on that he would sit up after the last mountain sprint, and it was good to know that in advance. We came here to compete for the win – we've won points jerseys in four stage races already this year and finished second overall in Korea, so we really want to get that elusive yellow jersey."
The green jersey Moritz Fußnegger was exhausted, but happy: "I'm really knackered! It was a long stage with rain and wind. We both fought for the mountain points, but I beat Avila by one point. Now it's my goal to win this green jersey, and the team will help me defend it tomorrow. We'll take it day by day, and it will be hard, but we can do it."
Stage 1 podium:
1. Edwin Ávila (COL) Team Illuminate 5:01:57
2. Eduard Michael Grosu (ROU) Team Romania 0:43
3. Simone Ponzi (ITA) CCC Sprandi Polkowice 0:43
Jersey wearers on stage 2:
Edwin Ávila (COL) Team Illuminate
Daniel Crista (ROU) Christina Jewelry - KUMA, leader is Edwin Ávila
Moritz Fußnegger (GER) 0711|Cycling
Gašper Katrašnik (SLO) Adria Mobil
Simone Ponzi (ITA) CCC Sprandi Polkowice, leader is Edwin Ávila
Eduard Michael Grosu (ROU) Team Romania