The nip and tuck battle between Ethan Hayter and Wout van Aert for the Tour of Britain could go to the final metres in Aberdeen on Sunday after the stage into Edinburgh, won by the Belgian Yves Lampaert, did nothing to alter the overall standings, meaning Hayter carries his slender four-second lead into the last day.
The pair effectively declared a truce on this windblown stage through the Borders, permitting seven riders who were no threat to maintain a healthy lead throughout and contest the stage win after being whittled down to three. But Van Aert will have to take the fight to Hayter if he is to overhaul him and the only option is the intermediate sprints that carry time bonuses, as well as those awarded at the finish.
Hayter and his Ineos team will want to let another escape dominate the stage so that Van Aert has no chance of pushing for the bonuses. Van Aert will want to avoid that scenario so that he can try to garner the seconds but it is not clear whether he has a strong enough team to keep the race together and support him at the sprints, given that he has only three Jumbo-Visma teammates remaining in the race, whereas Hayter and Ineos have a full complement of five.
Quite how Van Aert and Jumbo-Visma intend to play it will only become apparent when the race heads out of Stonehaven towards the final first-category climb of the contest at Cairn o’Mount. A northerly breeze could complicate matters, with the route changing direction several times as it loops inland before heading back to the coast, and that could provide opportunities to split the peloton.
En route to Edinburgh, opportunities were on the minds of the Deceuninck-Quickstep team. The Belgian outfit are the most prolific winners in cycling but their preferred options, Mark Cavendish and Julian Alaphilippe, have been unable to break Van Aert and Hayter’s grip, and Ineos were too quick for them in Tuesday’s team time trial.
With time running out, Deceuninck-Quickstep placed two riders in the early escape as they had done on Friday, sending Lampaert and the Italian Davide Ballerini out front, with Van Aert posting his teammate Pascal Eenkhoorn in the group. On the final short climb Lampaert made his move, taking with him Matteo Jorgenson of Movistar and Matt Gibson of Ribble Weldtite.
With Ballerini marking Eenkhoorn, Lampaert could let his companions make the pace while he saved his strength. Gibson and Jorgenson called his bluff by not riding flat out, but it was still a straightforward sprint win for the Belgian time trial champion, a lad with a farming background who is mad about tractors.
Lampaert is known as “John Deere” although he should not be confused with teammate Tim Declercq, nicknamed “the Tractor” for his ability to tow the peloton for mile after mile. Declerq had his chance in the break on Friday, Lampaert took his on Saturday and today the chances are they will put all the horsepower they can muster to set up a sprint finish for Cavendish.