The usual “double day” was on the menu in the Tour du Poitou-Charentes en Nouvelle Aquitaine on Thursday, and it went quite well for Groupama-FDJ. On the morning stage, Paul Penhoët grabbed a nice second place in the sprint, thus setting his best result with the WorldTour team. In the afternoon, Stefan Küng totally met the expectations on theeighteen-kilometre time trial to conquer his first victory of the season, but also to take the race lead with one day to go.
“I should have started my sprint earlier”, Paul Penhoët
In Nieuil-l’Espoir, it was better to be wide awake. The riders of the Tour du Poitou-Charentes were indeed expected at 9:30 a.m. on the start line for stage 3 of the event, featuring barely 90 kilometres. After only a few minutes, Jefferson Cepeda (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Gijs Van Hoecke (AG2R Citroën Team), Maxime Urruty (Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur) and Etienne Van Empel (China Glory Continental CT) establishedthe “morning” breakaway. “The goal was for Stefan to arrive at the start of the time trial without having lost time, so we had to be careful and control the breakaway”, explained Frédéric Guesdon. “We also had the possibility, in the event of a sprint, to fight for the stage with Paul. The breakaway took three minutes, and we had to chase for it not to make it. Anthony Roux first pulled with the sprinters’ teams, then it was Clément Davy’s turn”. “The guys controlled very well for Stefan”, confirmed Paul Penhoët. “In the final, we came on small roads with a climb that could be dangerous, and where it was not possible to move up. Everyone did a great job to putStefan in a good position there, and I was also well placed behind”.
The last categorized climb, barely 600 meters long, did no damage and the breakaway was caught five kilometres from the line, just before the second intermediate sprint. “We managed to do what we wanted: not to lose time and do the sprint”, added Frédéric. “Stefan even got three bonus seconds, which is always good”. The bunch sprint came almost straight after. “I managed to find the AG2R-Citroën lead-out train,” said Paul Penhoët. “I had to fight to stay in their wheels, but I managed to follow them until the last corner, with 300 meters to go. Then Marc [Sarreau] waited a bit before launching the sprint. I wanted to go before him, but when I started, I got pushed a bit by another competitor. It’s my fault, I should have started my sprint earlier. I lack this confidence that I usually have and that would have allowed me to launch earlier. I waited a little too long, I’m getting boxed-in, it’s a pity. It’s a second place on the line, but it will perhaps give me confidence for the other sprints”. “It’s still good for him”, claimed Frédéric. “He is young, he hasn’t raced a lot in August. It’s promising“.
“It’s nice to win”, Stefan Küng
After this third stage, the French sprinter was in seventh place overall, one spot behind his teammate Stefan Küng, 22 seconds away from the leader Marc Sarreau. However, everything was still to be decided in the afternoon, with a solo effort of 18.3 kilometres made for real specialists. Clément Davy, who started quite early, stayed in the “hot seat” for a long time thanks to a time of 26’27. However, the favorites started a little later, starting with former double European champion Stefan Küng, around 5 p.m. “Stefan prepared the time trial like he usually does,” said Frédéric. “We felt he was a bit tense at the start because it was a little bit technical, and the road was not very good. We had to take balanced risks. He did a good and clean time trial”. “I knew I was the man to beat, so I managed my effort well”, added the Swiss rider. “In the intermediate check point, it was quite close with the other riders, but I did not panic. I just focused on what I needed to do, and I was able to keep my pace until the end. That’s what made the difference.” At the finish, he eventually set the fastest time with a nice margin of seventeen seconds over his first opponent. “It’s nice to win,” he said. “That was the goal today, so mission accomplished.”
He also took the leader’s jersey of the race, which holds for twenty-one seconds. “It’s a decent day overall,” smiled Frédéric. “Tomorrow, the primary goal will be to defend the jersey. We will see for the stage win later. We lost Antoine, who was an important rider for us. We should face attacks and we expect a lively race.” “I have a margin, but we will have to be careful because there will be some hills in the final”, concluded Stefan. “I feel confident, and I know that I can also be confident with my team”.