In a gripping sprint finale on the streets of the inner city of Cologne, Sam Bennett was able to keep his rivals at bay to win the oldest German road race on the calendar. As expected, it all ended in a bunch sprint, and after a long day in the saddle, the Irish rider emerged victorious.
The one-day race Rund um Köln, which traversed through the metropolitan area on the river Rhine and its surroundings, was held today for the 102nd time, with its start and finish taking place in the Cologne Rheinauhafen. In contrast to last year’s edition of the race, this year’s course was somewhat shortened, with the riders also taking in the Cologne crane towers, the Sports and Olympic Museum and the historical swing bridge before the official start of the race got underway.
After 207.7km of racing through the Bergische Land, the riders reached the finish line in the Rheinauhafen. The race made for a demanding day in the saddle, with the peloton having to not only deal with several tight corners, but also tackle many fast descents. Particularly in the beginning and middle sections of the route there were also several climbs that had to be contended with. On the ascent to Schloss Bensberg, which had to be taken on twice, the riders were met with a 12 per cent steep cobbled sector. The passage to Dombach-Sander Straße in Bergisch Gladbach also had to be climbed two times. In addition, the ascent of the Dimberg as well as a short but 27 per cent steep climb to Agathaberg, one of the steepest climbs in German road racing, also awaited the riders. All of these slopes were designated as the KOM climbs of the day. At the end of the race, the riders were then faced with three 6.2km-long laps of a circuit within the inner city of Cologne before they reached the finish line in Rheinauhafen for the final time.
The Team Tactics
Although BORA – hansgrohe came to the race without the defending champion, Gregor Mühlberger, in its ranks, the team brought with it Sam Bennett, who was victorious in Cologne in 2014. The Irish sprinter, who won three stages of the Giro d’Italia this year, is in good form and was counted among the favourites to take out the honours on the line. The plan was to protect Sam and to try to bring him to the finishing stretch in an optimal position from which to launch his sprint.
It was to be expected that the fast men of the peloton would have their day on the course in Cologne today. However, there was always the possibility that some teams would try to attempt to distance the sprinters and thwart a mass sprint finale. In light of this, the team also had to be vigilant while racing to ensure our riders were able to neutralise any potential attacks.
Initial attempts to form the break of the day remained in vain and were quickly reeled back in by the peloton. After approximately 15km of racing, seven riders were able to distance themselves from the main field and solidified a lead of more than 4 minutes on the bunch. They sat at the head of affairs for quite some time. On the first climb of the day, which appeared 55km into the race, some riders in the peloton already found themselves in difficulty on the 27 per cent steep slopes of the Agathaberg. Shortly thereafter, a few riders attempted to set chase after the breakaway to bridge the gap, however their endeavours were ultimately in vain. During the second half of the course, the peloton put down the hammer, and under an increased tempo, the advantage of the break began to be whittled away. It was only a question of time as to when the escapees would be caught. Although they worked well together, the leading seven riders were unable to forestall the impending catch with 50km to the finish line. Under the tempo that was being meted out by BORA – hansgrohe, they were ultimately caught before the final two climbs of the day. Under this high pace, the peloton split into three groups, but calm was soon restored to the field, with everything coming together again and the riders travelling towards the inner city of Cologne in one main group. The teams that were tipped to have a good chance of taking the win, BORA – hansgrohe and Katusha Alpecin, led the peloton onto the circuit in a high-paced finish and attempted to negate any attacks on the last laps. In a fast finish, Sam Bennett opened up an impressive sprint and took the honours on the line ahead of M. Raim and M. Kittel.
01 S. Bennett 04:53:17
02 M. Raim +0:00
03 S. Sajnok +0:00
04 B. Jones +0:00
05 M. Kittel +0:00
From the Finish Line
“It was a tough almost 208km-long race, but the guys did an unbelievable job. They controlled the race the whole day. We planned to make the race as hard as possible for sprinters such as Marcel Kittel, and the guys executed our plan perfectly. In the finale, my leadout was seamless and the team brought me into an excellent position. I followed the wheel of Kittel and was able to then launch my sprint at the right time. Our whole team worked very well together and achieved an excellent result today.” – Sam Bennett
“The guys showed fantastic teamwork and they all worked the entire day for Sam. In the more undulating middle section of the course, we tried to increase the tempo to distance sprinters like Marcel Kittel. But after Sam’s great results at the Giro d’Italia, we were convinced of his form and his sprinting prowess. The team set up a good leadout for him and brought him in an ideal position from which to launch his sprint. Today the guys had to take on a rather difficult and long course, and it was great that Sam was able to finish it off with a win.” – Jens Zemke, Sport director.