Tour of Kosovo - stage 3 - Race report - Team Car perspective - Neale Watkins reporting:
The day began with a 60km bus ride to the start for the riders. It was a little cooler today and some welcome cloud cover in places but still quite stuffy. We arrived at the car park next to the start line and got the boys prepared only to be told that the start would be pushed back to 12pm so the boys sat in the cool of the local cafe drinking Machiatos. Our car had been refueled ready for the 146km final stage. It was all to play for today. Dom Schils needed to gain a second to get into top 3 on GC. Matty Dobbing also needed a second to win the U23 jersey, whilst Ryan Watkins needed to improve on or maintain 3rd U23 and the whole team needed to do everything possible to improve on or maintain 3rd on Team Classification.
The peloton rolled out up a 6% 2.5km gradient before releasing them down a descent and then climbing again for about 2km. With very little time to warm up, this was always going to be a tough start and sure enough riders began dropping out the back and Dom got caught behind a rider who had struggled the whole tour. This was a worrying moment for the team as he was now in a group five riders slipping off the back of the peloton. Luckily there were a couple of other strong riders in this group and they dug deep and worked hard to get back on just as they crested the hill.
Over the next 30km the speed increased as riders constantly attacked with cross winds stringing the peloton out. There was even an attack from rider 55, Cameron Foster, strangely he was sitting in the back of the team car? There was much less feeding today as it was cooler and there was tension in the bunch as nobody wanted to caught feeding when an attack kicks off. Fortunately most of the boys timed their feeding well and we were also trying to improve our response times and positioning when requests came through. We were 3rd car in the convoy due to our riders positions which also helped. But Alex Ashman dropped out the back at one stage but to his credit he worked hard and came through the convoy and rejoined the bunch.
By the time we reached Pristina and approx half distance the race had settled as the peloton headed west towards the finish at the Albanian border. There were two gradual climbs to get through before the finish. Again Alex just lost the back of the bunch so he took another feed and appeared to be accepting his fate but again about 5km later, here he comes, shear grit and determination, and rejoins the peloton, chapeau!
So to the intermediate sprint. This was on a slight descent and there was one almighty sprint but neither of our lads who needed time bonuses were successful and u fortunately the current U23 leader gained 2 seconds.
With 40km to go there were a couple of riders off the front with a 1 min gap but the peloton increased speed and they were all back together by the 10km marker and feeding had now closed. So we were all set for a bunch sprint up the final climb and sure enough attacks started thick and fast but we could see some of our riders in the mix. By the time we crossed the line the boys were spent and we were rewarded with a podium finish for Ryan Watkins.
Dom Schils 4th
Matty Dobbing 12th
Ryan Watkins 16th
David Reece 19th
Alex Ashman 40th
Team Classification - 3rd
Ryan Watkins 40 pts 4th
David Reece 28 pts 7th
Dom Schils 20 pts 13th
Matty Dobbing 16 pts 19th
Matty Dobbing 2nd
Ryan Watkins 3rd
So although no movement for the boys at the top of the GC they maintained a strong position and took away a trophy and some medals on what has been a very successful Tour of Kosovo.
Well done lads!
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