Benjamin Thomas never came so close to a victory in the WorldTour as he did on Wednesday, in stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse. The former French time trial champion was able to enter the right breakaway, which established itself after 80k (!) and actually believed in his chances until the very end. However, at the Gstaad aerodrome, he had to settle for second behind Stefan Bissegger in the final sprint. This is still his podium at this level.
“It was MotoGP”, Franck Pineau
Before really entering the climbers’ terrain on Thursday, the Tour de Suisse offered quite an interesting fourth stage for many riders. With only one climb on the menu, the breakaway had every chance to make it today. As a result, a lot of competitors were keen to go up the road, which made for quite a lively first half of the stage. “For almost a hundred kilometres, it was MotoGP,” said Franck Pineau. “It went full gas”. With Jake Stewart, Stefan Küng or Benjamin Thomas, Groupama-FDJ also joined in the fight at the start of the race. “I told the guys yesterday that for half of the bunch, the Tour de Suisse was ending tonight,” added Franck. “So this was the stage where we absolutely needed to take the break and everyone could take part in the fight. This is what they did. The guys were involved. Benjamin, in particular, really had this stage in mind. He told me he would do anything to be there, and he did it”. The decisive move was created after 80 kilometres of racing but really went away fifteen kilometres later. “There were three of us at first, then Bissegger came back alone,” Benjamin recounted. “We then rode hard to try to make a gap on the bunch. We mostly had tailwind today, so we could go fast and not get stuck. We joined forces to win against the bunch. In the back, teammates needed a break, we took advantage of it, and then they did not manage to organize themselves well enough. The start of the race also helped in our success”.
With about thirty kilometres to go, the bunch surrendered and the leading quartet thus won the power struggle that had started an hour earlier. “There were only strong guys up front,” said Franck Pineau. “Bissegger is not just anyone, Rosskopf and Suter are riding hard on the flat. You had to deserve your spot in the break today”. From then on, all eyes turned to the final and particularly to the only climb of the day: the Saanenmöser Pass (7.5 km at 4.4%), which started 18 kilometers from the line. “The goal was to drop a guy or two on the climb,” Franck continued. “There was a little acceleration and Suter was out. The other three, on the other hand, had more or less the same level”. “In the last climb, no one could make a gap, probably because we were a bit cooked from the day,” said Benjamin. “I knew Bissegger was the one to look at. I tried to surprise him on the climb but he looked easy.” The former French time trial champion did get a few meters lead, but the trio eventually started the final downhill together. “Benjamin tried to attack at the top, but given Bissegger’s downhill skills, we would have needed 20 seconds starting the descent,” added Franck. “I suffered on the downhill, I’m not very comfortable in the rain,” continued Benjamin. “Bissegger was taking the corners really fast and he attacked us almost after every turn. I bridged across 2-3 times. I might have missed this energy at the end, but I was honestly more focused on staying on my bike and not making mistakes than anything else on that downhill.”
“I have no regrets”, Benjamin Thomas
At the end of this tricky part, Stefan Bissegger, Joey Rosskopf and Benjamin Thomas were however still together. The American rider tried to attack in the last three kilometres but it proved unsuccessful. It then came down to a three-man sprint. Positioned as last, in the wake of the Swiss rider, the Frenchman tried to use his speed to get the win but could not get the best of the local rider. “He had a better kick than I did,” said Benjamin, second on the line. “I gave it all in the last 200 meters but it wasn’t enough, he was a little more powerful than me”. “Bissegger was stronger, that’s all,” said Franck. “You can always redo history with ifs, but I still think Bissegger was hard to beat today”. Within the Groupama-FDJ team, there was actually no remorse on Wednesday evening. “Second place is always frustrating for sure, but I’m still happy with my day,” said Benjamin. “My goal was to go on the break, fight for the win and win the stage. The contract was pretty much fulfilled, but I have no regrets, I don’t think I made any mistakes in the final. Bissegger was the strongest and he didn’t make any mistakes either, so he won.” “I really believed in our chances, so I’m obviously a bit disappointed,” Franck concluded. “That being said, I will remember the guys’ motivation. To be in the right break today, you needed to show a strong mindset and not give up. Also, it’s still a fine second place in the WorldTour. We are there, we keep fighting and I want us to keep this momentum going”.