British rider Stephen Williams, a member of the Bahrain Victorious team, is the winner of the 137.5-kilometer long fifth stage of this year's edition of the CRO Race from Rabac to Opatija, and also took the lead in the GC.
Williams passed the finish line with a 10-second lead over second Norwegian Markus Hoelgaard (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team) and third Mick van Dijke (Jumbo-Visma), who led the group of 13 riders.
"Since we did several stages and I thought that there was no freshness in my legs. I was afraid after the first passage through Opatija that they would catch me. However, I realized, somewhere three kilometers to the finish, that I still had freshness and that I could still pick up the pace. This is an indicator that I am in a good shape and it gives me an optimism for the next season”, said Williams after entering the finish line.
Williams has a 17-second lead over second-placed Hoelgaard and 18 seconds ahead of third-placed van Dijke, ahead of the final, sixth stage of the race.
The best placed Croats on the stage were Fran Miholjević as the 20th with a lag of 4 minutes and 24 seconds and Josip Rumac who was 28th and passed the finish line 4 minutes and 31 seconds after Williams. In the overall standings, Rumac is 23rd with 4:40 minutes behind Williams, while Miholjević is 38th with 6:31 minutes behind the British.
The excitement in the shortest stage of this year's CRO Race started from the very beginning, and the initiators were the Austrian Hermann Pernsteiner (Bahrain Victorious) and the Spaniard Oier Lazkano Lopez (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA). The two of them separated from the peloton and were the first to reach the KOM in Gračišće, and the Austrian took the maximum number for the KOM.
Pernsteiner also passed first the intermediate sprint in Pazin, while Lazkano was second. Leading duo had a 1:45 minute advantage over Spaniard Xabier Mikel Azparren (Euskaltel Euskadi) at the time, while the peloton was 3:30 minutes in arrears.
On the most difficult ascent of the whole race, one of the biggest favorites for the GC the British Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) joined the action and was the first to reach the top of Učka accompanied by his compatriot Stephen Williams (Bahrain Victorious). Yates and Williams also won the KOM points in Kastav, and they "picked up" the bonus seconds on the intermediate sprint in Viškovo.
On the way from Viškovo to Rijeka, the Austrian Riccardo Zoidl (Team Felbermayr Simplon Wels) joined Yates and Williams at the head of the race and the trio managed to create a half-minute advantage over a group of about 15 riders.
Williams was the first in both intermediate sprints in Viškovo and Rijeka ahead of Yates and Zoidl and the trio used indecision in the chase group on the way from Rijeka to Opatija and increased their advantage to almost a minute.
A chase group of 15 riders managed to reduce the gap to 30 seconds at the entrance to Opatija and as Yates and Zoidl were visible more tired than Williams in the last 10 kilometers, the difference soon dropped to 20 seconds, so Williams decided to try with a solo ride in the final lap and go for a stage victory in which he succeeded, while Yates and Zoidl were caught by the peloton a kilometer before the finish line.
Yates still won enough points to take the lead for the best climber, so he will take the green jersey in the final stage, while Olav Kooij kept the lead in the KOM standings and the blue jersey. Van Dijke is still the best young rider up to 23 yrs, so he will wear the white jersey.
The final, sixth stage of the race starts from Samobor on Sunday, October 3, at 11:15 AM, its finish line is in Zagreb at the Croatian National Theater, and the arrival of cyclists is expected between 2:46 PM and 3:05 PM, after which the winner in the GC will be announced this year’s CRO Race.