British rider Stephen Williams, a member of the Bahrain Victorious team, is the winner of this year's edition of the CRO Race, which finished today in Zagreb.
In the last, 157.5 kilometres long sixth stage which was ridden from Samobor to Zagreb on the roads of Zagreb County and the Croatian capital, Williams took second place behind the Dutchman Tim van Dijke (Jumbo-Visma) and thus defended the red jersey of the leader in the GC in Opatija on Saturday.
Up to six kilometres before the finish line, Williams could ride comfortably in the main group, but after entering the last lap in the center of Zagreb, Norwegian Markus Hoelgaard, third in the GC, attacked so Williams had to react and cover the Norwegian's attack.
Hoelgaard and Williams were joined in the lead by Van Dijke, who was faster than Williams in the final sprint in front of the Croatian National Theater, while Hoelgaard finished third with five seconds ahead of the peloton led by Australian Kaden Groves (Team Bikeexchange).
Williams reached his biggest victory in career, until now he won only one stage race in France (Ronde de l'Isard 2018), with 17 seconds ahead of second-placed Hoelgaard and 28 seconds ahead of third-placed Dutchman Mick van Dijke (Jumbo-Visma), the twin brother of the winner of the last stage in Zagreb.
Mick van Dijke is also the winner of the competition for the best young rider and thus won a white jersey. The Dutchman Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma) won the blue jersey for the best sprinter, while the Briton Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) won the green jersey for the best climber. The best team on this year's CRO Race is Bahrain Victorious.
This year's winners of Kids CRO Race - a virtual race for the youngest, joined the winners on stage too. Kids CRO Race was held simultaneously with CRO Race in seven cities - Osijek, Varaždin, Otočac, Makarska, Crikvenica, Opatija and Zagreb. In the younger age group of 9 and 10 years, the best this year were Jurica and Hana from Varaždin, and in the older age group of 11 and 12 years, the victory went to Nika from Opatija and Fran from Crikvenica.
"I am overjoyed to won the second place in the final stage and and to secured the victory at CRO Race. It was a really hard day, with a lot of wind from all directions. I am happy to came away with the win and ended a great week with the team. My team is absolutely amazing and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to drive this race. This is my first victory in my professional career, and yesterday's stage victory in Opatija was even more special. The last kilometre and the fight with Hoelgaard was really hard and I am happy that I managed to secure a red shirt", said Williams after he was declared as the winner of the CRO Race.
The escape of the day was formed shortly after the first intermediate sprint in Sveta Nedelja which occurred after only 3.3 kilometers and was won by Hoelgaard who picked up three bonus seconds. In the breakaway were eight cyclists, Austrians Manuel Bosch (Team Felbermayr Simplon Wels), Maximilian Kuen (Team Vorarlberg) and Felix Ritzinger (WSA KTM Graz), Poles Marcin Budzinski (HRE Mazowsze Serce Polski) and Mateusz Grabis (Voster ATS Team), Spaniard Oier Lazkano Lopez (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Slovenian Kristjan Hočevar (Adria Mobil) and Belgian Kenny Molly (Bingoal Pauwels Saucers WB).
The escapees quickly created an advantage of 4:30 minutes, so they shared the points among themselves on the intermediate sprints in Dugo Selo and Vrbovec and on for the KOM in Sveti Ivan Zelina. In Dugo Selo, Lazkano was first ahead of Bosch and Kuen, in Vrbovec Molly ahead of Lazkano and Bosch, while Lazkano won the KOM in Sveti Ivan Zelina ahead of Kuen and Hočevar.
The advantage of the leading group gradually decreased so that during the first passage through the finish line it they had only 30 seconds ahead of the peloton. However, the first passing through KOM checkpoint in St. Mark's Square was won by Kuen in front of Lazkano and Molly, and during the second pass, Norwegian Anders Skaarseth (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team) was at the head of the race, preparing an attack by his teammate Hoelgaard, which eventually failed.