Five men went clear from the word go on this, the Tour of Britain’s Queen stage. They were Conor Dunne, Mark McNally, Michael Morkov, Pete Williams and Morgan Kneisky. The peloton were happy to let them go, but the gap never grew beyond a more than manageable margin, with a maximum of around six and a half minutes. With the most difficult finish of this year’s Tour of Britain awaiting them in the form of the steep rise up to Hartside, the general classification teams could afford to sit back and conserve energy for a while.
With Pete Williams in the breakaway, we were to see the sprint jersey wearer extend his lead in that contest; Williams duly picked up full points at the sprint thanks to a superb turn of pace. Williams also contested for KOM points, and, although McNally took maximum points on all the day’s intermediate climbs, Williams still managed to become virtual KOM leader on the road. McNally did a good job for his teammate Tom Stewart who was wearing that jersey at the start of the day — effectively minimizing Stewart’s deficit to Williams — but there was nothing he could do to keep Williams out of the jersey short of push him off his bike.
But neither Williams nor McNally were to gain points at the top of the day’s final climb, as the charging peloton were steadily eating into the breakaway’s advantage. The gap was down to around 2 minutes within the last 40k, as the riders passed through the country of Wordsworth and Withnail & I. Sky were showing plenty of interest at the front of the peloton, as were MTN-Qhubeka, amongst others. With 35km to go, Morkov decided the gap was closing too quickly and applied some pressure at the front; Williams and McNally both went with him, looking to feature in the final sprint through Penrith, but the other breakaway riders faded. When the sprint came, it was Williams who crossed first once more, followed by McNally, and a largely indifferent Morkov, who had eyes only for the stage win ahead. But it was not to be their day.
The gap was under a minute into the last 15km, and those interested in the stage win were hitting the front of the pack. It looked like a sign of interest from Bradley Wiggins, who was hovering around the front of the peloton with teammate Owain Doull, but neither were to feature. Lobato, the yellow jersey wearer, was falling to the back of the pack — obviously not fancying his chances at remaining race leader. All the while the peloton were breathing down the necks of the escapees, and the catch was finally made at around 10km to go. It was now all about the 8km-long Hartside climb.
Sky drove the rapidly reducing peloton into the climb, and already Lobato was off the back. Attacks came and went, with Cannondale’s Ruben Zepuntke leading the race into the final 5km. He was soon joined ahead of the pack by Sky’s Peter Kennaugh and Movistar’s Fernández. The peloton began to fall apart as Lotto’s Steven Kruijswijk made a move, distancing himself from the chasing group amidst barren heathland. He was chased by Wout Poels of Sky, who began to work with Kruijswijk to open up a gap. Boasson Hagen was following the leading duo, but, as he had started the stage second in the G.C., he was too much of a threat for Poels to ignore. Poels pushed on, with only Boasson Hagen and Kruijswijk able to follow now, and the summit in sight.
Under the 1km to go banner, it was Boasson Hagen leading Poels to the finish. It looked for a good while like Boasson Hagen had the stage in hand, but within the last 400m Poels made a resurgence, coming past Boasson Hagen and beating him to the line. Emphatically, the stage was Poels’ — but the race for the yellow jersey couldn’t have been closer. A scant 7 seconds had separated the pair at the start of the stage, and Poels had beaten Boasson Hagen to the line — and bonus seconds — by 2 seconds. This means that Boasson Hagen now leads the race by a single second over Poels. The queen stage of this tour may not have been enough to determine the overall classification of the race, and we will have to see how Sky race the next few stages for Poels before a winner is decided.