The first mountain stage of the Tour de Suisse on Friday offered two races in one: the stage victory on one hand, the general classification on the other, and Groupama-FDJ was in the mix for both. Quentin Pacher spent his day up frontbefore claiming sixth place at the top of Moosalp. Behind him, Thibaut Pinot stayed with the very best until the line, while Stefan Küng put on another impressive performance to retain his position in the top-10 overall (7th). As for Sébastien Reichenbach, he sits in tenth position before a second mountainous stage on Saturday towards Malbun.
“Reassured about my shape“, Quentin Pacher
The riders were gaining height this Friday on the Tour de Suisse. After a few hilly days, the real mountain was on the program for the sixth stage. Only two climbs were to be tackled, but some hard ones: the Nufenenpass (13.6 km at 7.8%), 2,500 meters above sea level at mid-race, and the ascent of Moosalp (17.7 km at 7.6%), at 2,000 meters of altitude to finish. “Given the profile, there was a big chance that the breakaway could make it, so we had to be in there,”said Philippe Mauduit. “Few riders could join it, and Quentin was one of them”. After about fifteen minutes, the Frenchpuncher managed to go away with two riders at first, before being joined by others later. A group of twelve eventually established, with Fausto Masnada (Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Michael Matthews, Dion Smith (BikeExchange-Jayco), Jose Herrada (Cofidis), Clément Champoussin (AG2R-Citroën), Roland Thalmann (Switzerland), Andrea Pasqualon (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert), Brent Van Moer (Lotto-Soudal), Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) and Nico Denz (DSM). “The goal was to be in the breakaway, with Thibaut if possible”, explained Quentin. “I was there, but without him, as some teams probably didn’t want him to go. I was very motivated to be in the front. I didn’t really believe we could make it at firstbecause we didn’t take too much of a lead, but we really increased the gap in the first climb. Everyone worked well all day. It was still tough because the elevation gain was high,and it was again very hot today.”
At the top of the Nufenenpass, the breakaway was reduced to eleven men but still had a lead of about six minutes. The gap was almost similar at the bottom of the final climb, reached after quite a long valley. Quentin Pacher then tried to take a step ahead but was eventually dropped by a handful of riders fifteen kilometres from the top. “I struggled a bit at the bottom, which cost me the possibility to follow the 4-5 riders who fought for victory”, he explained. “I got a second windfive kilometres from the finish, I was able to hold off the bunchand take a top-10 spot. I’m satisfied. I wanted to improve over the week. For now, that’s what’s happening. I am reassured about my shape. It was a stage with more than 4000 meters of elevation gain, so to finish in the top-10 on a WorldTour racelike this is a good sign”. “I think some were stronger than him, but it was a good thing that he was in front, and it shows that it was the best solution to try to win the stage”, added Philippe. “Surely, he’s getting better. He’s adjusting quite well to the heat as the days go by.” After almost eighteen kilometres of climbing, Quentin Pacher took sixth place at the top, 1’33 behind winner Nico Denz. Thibaut Pinot came to the line less than a minute later (12th), together with the main favourites. “It was an important day for me, as it was the first top finish”, said the French climber. “I wanted to test myself against the other leaders. Despite the heat, I wanted to do the best I could. The guys did a good job of trying to keep me cool, with quite a few bottles and ice. This helped me to have good feelings on the last climb. I am reassured, also because it was very hot and this is something important for me ahead of the Tour”.
“There is another nice stage left“, Thibaut Pinot
In a bunch already reduced to 93 riders at the start of the stage, which got thinner and thinner over the day, Stefan Küng also impressed. The time trial specialist followed the very best climbers for a very long time and only was distanced with two kilometres to go, when barely ten riders were still in the yellow jersey group. The Swiss man finally reached the line thirty-nine seconds after the best. Only. “After feeling good on the first stages, I thought about trying to follow in the mountains”, he said at the finish. “I don’t have a proper preparation to do a general classification, but I’m improving, and this year, I passed a milestone which allowed me to fightin front. I cracked just before the easiest part, it’s a shame, but I gave it my all and I can’t regret anything”. “No one expected Stefan to reach the top of an eighteen-kilometre climb with the best,” said Philippe Mauduit. “He is in exceptional form, and he confirmed his talent again today. It’s just a shame that Seb was distanced a little earlier.” In the end, the two Swiss riderslost one place in the general classification on Friday, but Stefan Küng still sits in seventh, 49 seconds behind Fuglsang, and Sébastien Reichenbach in tenth at 1’29. Let’s now head towards the second mountainous round on Saturday, finishing in Malbun (12.5 km at 8.5%). “There is another nice stage left, we will see what will be the plan to get a result”,concluded Thibaut.