Stefan Küng did not crack in the third stage of the Tour de Suisse on Tuesday. However, he still had to let the yellow jersey to Mathieu van der Poel, who indeed took it thanks to ten bonus seconds he got winning the final sprint. After riding conservatively, and quite logically so, over the past two days, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team will ride more aggressively in the following days in order to get some more results.
“A bit too hard for Jake”, Franck Pineau
At the start of Lachen on Tuesday, Stefan Küng’s yellow jersey was clearly under threat. Therefore, in this stage made for the punchers once again, the plan was clear for Franck Pineau and Benoît Vaugrenard’s riders. “We tried to control at the start, but it was not up to us to catch the breakaway,” said the race leader. “With Alaphilippe and Van der Poel so close in the overall standings, and given the final, we knew we could lose the jersey with the bonus seconds. We then allowed the gap to reach seven minutes, and the teams interested in the stage victory later started to pull.” At the head of the race, Mathias Frank (AG2R-Citroën), Benjamin King (Rally Cycling), Claudio Imhof (Switzerland) and Rémy Rochas (Cofidis) saw their lead decreasing in the second, hilly part of the race. They indeed had less than four minutes when they first crossed the line with about 45 kilometres to go. A bit later, the riders got to the bottom of the last listed climb of the day (3.5 km at 6%), featuring slopes at 10% likely to create some damage. “Once again, Stefan did not leave the first places during the day thanks to his teammates’ great help,” noted Franck Pineau. “Up to the bottom of that last hill, he was ideally positioned. Benjamin Thomas then gave the last turn to keep him in front for the hardest part of the climb. There is nothing to complain about, the job was done very well”.
With more than twenty-five kilometres to go, Mathieu van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe made some powerful attacks, which blew the bunch apart. This ended Jake Stewart’s hopes for the day. “It came down to the legs,” Franck said. “It’s a shame because Jake is going well, but it was a bit too hard for him. He didn’t miss much. However, there weren’t many guys left at the top, and hardly any sprinters. It’s a shame but we can’t blame him for anything, it went up very fast”. The yellow jersey indeed confirmed this statement. Defending his lead overall, Stefan Küng fought hard to keep his place inside a bunch of around 50 riders. “The final was as we had imagined: really fast”, added the Swiss man. “The last climb was done full gas. I felt good until the top but I then started to get cramps. I could no longer try anything, I could just follow”. In the last ten kilometers, Ivan Garcia Cortina tried to go solo until the finish line, but he was caught shortly after the flamme rouge and a reduced bunch sprint it was eventually.
“The Tour de Suisse is not over”, Stefan Küng
“I could only hope that someone would beat Van der Poel and Alaphilippe,” Küng added. “In the end, Van der Poel got the jersey in style and he deserves it. I have no regrets because we didn’t make any mistakes and I think I defended it well.” The Dutch champion and the World champion, respectively first and third on the stage, overtook the Swiss champion in the GC thanks to the bonus seconds. “We can’t be disappointed”, said Franck. “We gave our best. With such a finish and such competitors, we knew it was going to be very difficult. We fought with what we had, all the riders did their job and Stefan again proved his good shape. It’s very interesting for the future”. “It was a real pleasure to spend these two days in yellow,” added Stefan. “The Tour de Suisse is not over, and from tomorrow I will be wearing the Swiss champion’s jersey again, which is not bad either. Tomorrow, there might be a chance with Jake, but it will all depend on the race scenario”. With some mountains now lying ahead, the team will now rather ride aggressively than conservatively. “We will go into breakaways, work for the future and try to enjoy the race”, concluded Franck. “Before taking some time off, some will have the chance to show themselves. Of course I want the guys to go on the attack, but I want us to do it smartly.”