Twenty-four hours after Tobias Ludvigsson, Benjamin Thomas also went to spend the day up front, in the only mountain stage of the 2021 Tirreno-Adriatico. The former French time trial champion was even able to get halfway through the final climb of Prati di Tivo before he was caught by the favourites. Behind the strongest, including stage winner Tadej Pogacar, Rudy Molard nicely fought to get a 20th place at the top, despite a mechanical problem in the final.

“I could get off the beaten track a bit”, Benjamin Thomas

On the morning of the only mountain top finish scheduled on this year’s Race of the Two Seas, Groupama-FDJ once again aimed to join the breakaway. After “Tobbe” Ludvigsson on Friday, Benjamin Thomas seized the opportunity from the start on Saturday to find himself in the front of the race. He did so with Mattia Bais (Androni Sidermec), Marco Canola (Gazprom-RusVelo), Mads Würtz Schimdt (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Emil Vinjebo (Qhubeka ASSOS). “It wasn’t necessarily the plan for me to be in the breakaway, but we wanted to join the moves in case of a strong start to the stage,” he said. “Stefan tried first, I then gave it a shot and we ended up five in front. Then, I tried to save some energy, not to push too hard at the beginning, and then have a little fun on the last two climbs.” The peloton gave up to nine minutes to the day’s leaders. However, the favourites’ teams then accelerated in the Passo Capannelle and the gap was reduced to only six minutes at the top.

Eventually, Benjamin Thomas got to the bottom of the final climb of Prati di Tivo (14.7 km at 7%) with around three minutes on the pack. “Würtz Schmidt was riding strong and I quickly realized that it would come down to the both of us in the final climb,” added the Frenchman. “It was a great experience. You don’t get the chance everyday to find yourself tackling the last climb of a race like this with a head start. I could get off the beaten track a bit and I had the opportunity to fight on a nice mountain stage. It will serve me for the future”. After a long ride at the head of the race, Benjamin Thomas got caught by the main leaders nearly six kilometers from the summit. “He did a very good breakaway,” confirmed Sébastien Joly. “He showed some great things today as well as great motivation.” Moments after being overtaken by the main contenders, the former French time trial champion could see his teammate Rudy Molard fighting in a chasing group.

“I could have done better without this issue”, Rudy Molard

There was a really a fast pace from Ineos and I hung on for as long as possible,” told Rudy. “I couldn’t keep up with Bernal and Pogacar’s first attacks, so I started to pace myself in a small chasing group. Unfortunately a rider hit my derailleur on the climb and I had to change my bike. This is how I lost contact with the group. It’s a bit of a shame because this group managed to get back. It would then have been possible to remain there a little longer, especially since it was a climb where drafting was quite significant. I could have done better without this issue. After being blocked by the crash two days ago, I got a bit unlucky once again. Then I finished at my own pace and tried to save myself for tomorrow, because the stage could suit me”. “Rudy wanted to do a good climb, and that’s what he achieved despite his mechanical problem,” said Sébastien. “He finished twentieth on the stage, and given the quality of the field here, that’s actually a good performance”. On Saturday evening, the Groupama-FDJ’s rider is also in twentieth overall.

Also, this stage was for Thibaut Pinot the most anticipated one in Tirreno-Adriatico, since it could allow him and the team to know more about the evolution of his physical condition. His ranking (34th at 4’58) enabled his sports director Sébastien Joly to take stock of the situation. “There was no miracle,” he said, “but we could expect it. We figured he was going to be in this range, between 30th and 40th place. He’s where we expected him to be. It follows logically with the Classic de l’Ardèche and the Trofeo Laigueglia. Thibaut manages to make efforts, but comes a time when he needs to recover a little before getting back to his pace. His level is stable. It’s not disastrous, but it’s obviously not going the way he would like.”

On Sunday, the Tirreno-Adriatico peloton will face the famous “walls” stage, on a Ardennes Classic-type of course, between Castellalto and Castelfidardo.

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