Marc Hirschi sprinted to his third victory of 2022 at the Giro della Toscana, closing out a tense finale in Pontedera by getting the better of a select group of five riders.
The Swiss UAE Team Emirates star outpaced Lorenzo Rota (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) to the line after the Italian had launched the sprint from the front with 250 metres to go. Einer Rubio (Movistar) rounded out the podium with his compatriots Daniel Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers) and Esteban Chaves (EF Education-EasyPost) taking fourth and fifth.
"It was a beautiful race and the perfect way to comeback to racing. In the climb I suffered a lot and couldn’t follow Martinez but we knew that in the last 20km we could work together and claw him back so we did that," Hirschi said. "I had good legs for the sprint and knew I could be the fastest so to cross the line first was a huge satisfaction. I’m looking forward to the next few days racing here in Italy."
The final sprint to the line came after a final kilometre raced at snail's pace as the group played cat and mouse having caught solo attacker Martínez 5km out. Hirschi, naturally the fastest finisher in the group, took advantage, launching from second wheel to blast through to the win.
The quintet had emerged at the head of the race on the main difficulty of the 199.2km race, Monte Serra. The challenge of the 11km, 7% mountain lay on two laps of the long closing circuit and, heading up the final ascent, it was Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert who pushed the pace in the peloton to whittle the group down.
The Belgian team's pacemaking left just seven men up front for the closing kilometres of the climb with Hirschi, Rota, Rubio, Martínez joined by Natnael Tesfatsion (Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli), and Italia champion Filippo Zana (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè).
Zana was first to drop at 33km out, while Tesfatsion let go when Martínez put in a dig a kilometre later, two from the top. The 26-year-old, who won Itzulia Basque Country back in April, couldn't initially make a break from the group but managed to do so with his next acceleration.
By the top of the climb, Martínez had 12 seconds on Chaves, Hirschi, Rota, and Rubio, an advantage which he would only extend on the 10km descent to the valley floor.
Martínez's gap to the chasers reached a maximum of 25 seconds on the way down, with the seconds barely eroding as the lightweight climber powered along the flat road back to Pontedera alone.
The chase group wouldn't make any major inroads into Martínez's lead until he hit the final 10km, at which point they sped up to cut the gap in half. As the kilometres ticked down, so did the time, before Martínez was finally brought back just outside the 5km to go mark.
On the run-in to the line, the leaders – who had ample time to play cat-and-mouse with the next group on the road 1:40 down – tried several moves and counter-moves, but they would ride under the flamme rouge all together.
There were plenty of mind games, looking around, and freewheeling during the final kilometre, with no one rider willing to give the rest a free lead-out to the line. Rota eventually took it up some 400 metres out, though, and he launched his sprint 150 metres later in reaction to his break-mates behind.
It wasn't enough to hold off Hirschi's acceleration, with the Swiss rider coming through to celebrate the sixth win of his career. Only 13 seconds later – an indication of the leaders' slow run-in – Alex Aranburu (Movistar) led the chasers home to take sixth place.
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