On Sunday, Stefan Küng and Bruno Armirail just missed a prestigious victory by just four and eight seconds respectively, on stage 9 of the Giro d’Italia. On the second time trial of the “Corsa Rosa”, over thirty-five kilometres towards Cesena, the Swiss man and the Frenchman even led the race for nearly an hour, in the first two positions. In the end, they were only beaten by three men in the last minutes, and for only a handful of seconds. A frustrating outcome for the two specialists, while Thibaut Pinot tried to limit his losses before the first rest day despite some health issues.
The first – long – week of the Giro was coming to an end this Sunday. “Finally,” probably thought a large part of the bunch. However, before heading to the first rest day, thirty-five kilometres were to be covered between Savignano sul Rubicone and Cesena, against the clock and on a very flat course, which was only made technical due to the pouring rain. “Once again, the whole team committed fully and did a great work”, underlined Sébastien Joly. “We take these days very seriously, as another mechanic and a second trainer join us. The organization is precise. The staff handles these days with great experience and some serenity”. First, Fabian Lienhard, Ignatas Konovalovas, Rudy Molard and Jake Stewart raced the time trial “at their own pace”. The serious things started when Bruno Armirail and Stefan Küng left the ramp one after the other, at 3:17 p.m. and 3:18 p.m. From the first checkpoint, both of them made things clear. The Swiss set the fastest time, fourteen seconds ahead of the French champion, but the latter took the advantage for 4-5 seconds at the following checkpoints. Eventually, the former double European champion did a better finish and set the best time with a mark of 41’28, just four seconds ahead of the Frenchman. Stefan Küng went on the hot seat, and the two Groupama-FDJ riders held their first two positions for almost an hour. A few riders came close, but many cracked in the final portion.
“I feel like this is the story of my life”, Stefan Küng
Among the last starters, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Geraint Thomas and Remco Evenepoel all went faster at the various checkpoints. Their advantage was even superior to ten seconds in the third one, but on the line, the Englishman actually took the best time away from Stefan Küng for just one second! He was himself only beaten by one second by his Welsh teammate and by two seconds by the Belgian rider. At the finish, Stefan Küng therefore fell back to fourth place, but only four seconds from victory. “What can I say? I feel like it’s the story of my life”, said Stefan. “I come so close to victory every time. In addition, the road was drier towards the end for the GC riders. That’s sport, it is how it is, but it’s very frustrating to finish so close again… That’s all I can say”. Bruno Armirail meanwhile finished just behind his teammate, in fifth position and only eight seconds behind Evenepoel. “I’m satisfied with my effort, but I’m still disappointed to get so close to winning a WorldTour time trial,” said the Frenchman. “Eight seconds is a lot and is nothing at the same time over 35 kilometres. I put myself in Stefan’s shoes, as he came even closer. Fifth was already my position in a Vuelta time trial, so I’m obviously aiming higher. My performance still bodes well for the rest of the Giro where there will be good opportunities. Hopefully, other breakaways will go to the end before the end of the race”.
“Get some good feelings back”, Thibaut Pinot
Despite two men in the top-5 of a Grand Tour time trial, the day still appeared bittersweet. “Bruno achieved a very strong performance”, underlined Julien Pinot. “Being eight seconds from winning at this level means this is a benchmark time trial for him. If we look at the times, he was even the fastest between the first checkpoint and the finish. It’s a very good time trial and it shows that he is in good condition, which we had already seen during the last two stages along Thibaut. For Stefan, it is more about disappointment and frustration, because he is once again very close to a big victory. We learn to put things into perspective, but we will continue to work so that the seconds are finally on our side on the major races. These four seconds can be everywhere and nowhere. It’s like that”. As for Thibaut Pinot, he completed the course in 44’04, 2’40 behind Remco Evenepoel who returned in pink. “My time was not my first concern today”, said the French climber. “I haven’t been feeling good for three days. I’m just happy to have completed this 45-minute effort and to have some rest tomorrow. I have mixed feelings after this first week. I was fine for five days, and then I got sick. Despite being unlucky, I am lucky that it happens now. I console myself in this way. After the rest day, there are three days for sprinters-breakaways. For me, it will be important to get some good feelings back in order to have fun in the second part of the Giro”.
After nine days of racing, the climber from Melisey is in twentieth place overall, 5’33 behind the race leader.