Following a pattern that has seen Dylan Groenewegen win a stage on alternate days on this year’s Tour of Britain, the Dutchman took his tally to three out of a possible five on the sinuous finish here in Birkenhead Park while the Italian Matteo Trentin took advantage of a time bonus for third place to snatch back the overall lead from another Dutchman, Mathieu van der Poel, going into Thursday’s time trial.
After the previous day’s drama in the Lakes this was a return to business as usual on a 174km loop down the Wirral peninsula and back up again, with a brief incursion into Chester and north Wales. A four-man break disappeared early, was kept well within reach and was retrieved late on before the bunch sprint, but there were subtle differences within what is a set pattern for many WorldTour stage races.
The final short ascent of the day over Flaybrick Hill, 3.6km from the line, discombobulated the peloton and left the lead-out men out of place, and it was touch and go whether Groenewegen and his pilot fish, Mike Teunissen and Amund Grøndal Jansen, would get back to the front in time for the finish.
Van der Poel’s team lined him up for the climb but he lost ground afterwards and finished only 14th in a highly technical finish, which depended largely on position entering the final kilometre. Here the road curved sharply round to the left on a circuit in the country’s oldest publicly funded park, which is still used for amateur races, and where the Wirral’s current WorldTour star, Steve Cummings, began his racing career.
Just before the finish the road veered slightly to the right, meaning that Groenewegen had only to take the straightest line through the succession of curves to be assured of victory, with the Great Britain amateur Matt Walls several lengths in his wake.
At times the plethora of road furniture on the peninsula made for chaos, with crashes involving the sprints classification leader, Rory Townsend, and also Cummings, who fell as the race passed through Hoylake, home of the Olympian Chris Boardman, and was taken to hospital for medical checks. In another incident later in the stage there was confusion as the peloton tackled a roundabout with a right turn: some went straight on, others cut into the traffic on the right side of the carriageway and ended up going the wrong way down the road.
On Thursday the race will be reshuffled in a different way, with a 14km time trial starting and finishing in the Worcestershire plum-growing centre of Pershore. “My time-trialling has never been that good,” said Trentin, who leads by three seconds. “I just hope Van der Poel doesn’t time-trial like he rode up that climb in Kendal.”
The Dutchman has not ridden a time trial in anger since the start of last year, so he, too, is in unknown territory and there is a chance that either or both of the Ineos duo of Gianni Moscon and Pavel Sivakov, both of whom are a little further down the standings, could make strides towards the overall win.