Stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse on Thursday proved to be an elimination race on the very difficult circuit around Novazzano, but Stefan Küng and Sébastien Reichenbach did fight with the best. On home soil, the two Swiss riders got in the mix in the final moments of the race. The time trial specialist was impressive once again and took seventh place on the line, six seconds behind the winner Aleksandr Vlasov. His fellow countryman got tenth place on the day. Prior to the two mountain stages, they sit fifth and ninth overall respectively.

“The circuit was too hard to go from afar”, Philippe Mauduit

The real mountain was not yet on the Tour de Suisse menu this Thursday, but the GC contenders had everything to lose in a very demanding fifth stage. The first half certainly did not include big obstacles and a breakaway of five men was allowed to take the lead: Silvan Dillier (Alpecin-Fenix), Anthony Turgis (TotalEnergies), Johan Jacobs (Movistar), Alexander Kamp (Trek-Segafredo), Claudio Imhoff (Switzerland). The last eighty kilometres, however, did include many obstacles. “Once we got on the circuit, the race really started, and it was an elimination race”, said Stefan Küng. “With the heat and a tricky circuit that was only going up and down, it was not easy at all. The key was to keep hydrated and refreshed.” “There were still several possible scenarios today, but the most likely was to have a waiting race, and that’s the one we went for”, explained Philippe Mauduit. “We knew that the circuit was too hard to go from afar”. In the front, the breakaway tackled the first climbs with a lead of four minutes which obviously reduced over the kilometres. The breakaway lost some of its members from the very first hills, as did the peloton, where the yellow jersey found himself distanced quite early on. When the bunch crossed the finish line for the first time, with fifty kilometres to go, only sixty men or so were still in there.

Several teams interested in the stage victory therefore maintained a high tempo to drop additional riders. “With 50k to go, I did not feel very well”, said Stefan Küng. “I knew it was going to be hard, but I recovered well, and I saw that the others were just as much struggling as I was. It came down to legs, but also to the head. I started to feel better and better, and then I tried to hang on in the final”. With one lap to go, only about forty men remained in the peloton, including Stefan Küng, Sébastien Reichenbach, Thibaut Pinot, Quentin Pacher and Matteo Badilatti. After a solid day in the lead, Swiss champion Silvan Dillier was the last fugitive to be caught, in the climb of Morbio Inferiore (1 km at 8.6%). In the following ascent, in Pedrinate (2.5 km at 7.7%), the pace increased even more, and it proved too much for Thibaut Pinot with one kilometre to the top. In the opposite, Sébastien Reichenbach managed to follow the attacks of the main favourites approaching the summit, while Stefan Küng had to give away a few seconds before the downhill. Everything was eventually decided on a flat section leading to the final climb (2 km at 5.8%). After some cat-and-mouse game, five riders managed to break away from a group of fifteen.

“It was fun to fight up front with the climbers”, Stefan Küng

“They went just when I was coming back”, said Stefan. “I counter-attacked, but the Bora-hansgrohe guys were everywhere”. Thanks to another huge effort, the Swiss rider still came back very close to the leading men at the flamme rouge, but the last hundreds of metres gave a clear advantage to the punchers/climbers. “There was nothing more I could do,” added Stefan. “I did my best and it was still fun to fight up front with the climbers. We always hope to do better, but I gave it my all. I was only thinking about the stage victory, I thought for a brief moment that I could get it, but I would have needed for everything to align”. At the finish, Aleksandr Vlasov then took victory while the double European time trial champion took seventh place, six seconds behind. Sébastien Reichenbach fought to tenth place, at nine seconds. “I think we have nothing to be ashamed of with the team’s overall performance today,” said Philippe. “Stefan did not surprise us. Remembering what he achieved on the last stage of Paris-Nice, we knew that he could make it today. That being said, he necessarily pays his weight compared to the others. Anyway, we can consider that he did another great performance today. Seb confirmed the good shape he’s had since the start of the season. As for Thibaut, we must also be satisfied with his day. We know that he suffers in hot weather. It’s good to see that he was still there until the last 7-8 kilometres. His condition is growing, and I think he is on track for the Tour.”

In the general classification, Stefan Küng remains in fifth position, now sixteen seconds behind the yellow jersey Vlasov, while Sébastien Reichenbach enters the top-10, in ninth place (43 seconds behind). “Tomorrow the high mountains start, so I’m going to leave the terrain to the pure climbers and start focusing on the time trial,” smiled Stefan. “Seb is still in the mix and I think he can do something nice tomorrow”.

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