In the aftermath of a painful day, Groupama-FDJ got back on track this Thursday in stage 12 of the Tour de France. Through its Swiss rider Stefan Küng, the team was represented in the right breakaway that established itself in the echelons at the start. The European time trial champion was even one of the main protagonists of the final before taking fourth place at the finish. Anyway, a new momentum has started.
“My body was just exhausted”, Stefan Küng
Less than twenty-four hours after a hard stage on the slopes of the Mont Ventoux, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team had only four riders at the start of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux on Thursday, but four combative riders. “Yesterday’s race scenario has changed our plans, but we are starting today with just as much motivation,” claimed Valentin Madouas. “All the stages will be one day races, we all have ambitions and we all want a stage win”. It then all started again with a slightly hilly 12th stage towards Nîmes, which especially featured some crosswinds at the start. “At the briefing, we told the guys there was a high probability that the break would make it to the end,” said Yvon Madiot. “It was very nervous with the wind at the start but Stefan stayed in a really good position, and the riders who ended up in front were those who were in the first echelon. It came down to legs and courage”. The peloton was indeed still split apart when a group of thirteen strong men formed after fifteen kilometres of racing. Up there, Stefan Küng found himself with riders he is used to seeing in the Spring Classics. The peloton quickly gave up and the fugitives knew after just a few minutes that the day’s victory would go to one of them.
At first, the European time trial champion did not spare his efforts to create the decisive gap. When things got serious at the head of the race with fifty kilometres to go, he tried to use his energy the right way and managed to enter the right move of four riders. With forty kilometres to go, he escaped with Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Nils Politt (Bora-hansgrohe) and Harry Sweeny (Lotto-Soudal). They all worked well together, and made a significant gap on the rest of the breakaway, but Stefan Küng saw his chances evaporating in the last climb, 15 kilometres from the line. “After only thirty kilometers today, I felt like I was a bit empty,” Stefan confessed. “I thought that everyone felt the same, but in the end I did not have anything left in my legs. I was at the limit. I just didn’t have enough energy today to be able to play for the win. I held on, gave it my all and really tried everything. I fed myself very well during the stage, but if you don’t have energy from the very start, that is not a good sign. I started to have cramps and my body was just exhausted. I couldn’t do more. We do have limits and my body reminded me of that”.
“This fourth place is encouraging”, Yvon Madiot
Unable to keep up with his three breakaway companions, Stefan Küng nevertheless managed to stay away from the chasing group to grab fourth place on the line, whil Nils Politt took the win. “He managed his effort as well as he could, but he just did not have enough energy in the last ten kilometres,” said Yvon. “He worked a lot for the team every day since the start, and he paid a bit for that today. It’s a bit of a pity because it was a great opportunity, but he had a great race and there is nothing to blame him for. Fatigue eventually got the better of him. This fourth place is still encouraging”. “I would have liked to win today,” Stefan added. “Unfortunately, I hadn’t recovered enough from the last few days. Let us not forget that we are on day 12 of a special and hard Tour, unlike any I have ever experienced. I knew it could be a good day for the break, so I went for it, but deep down I was empty”. No matter what, he clearly showed the way for the nine upcoming stages. “I won’t stop fighting to get that stage win,” Stefan concluded. “We lost our hopes for the general classification, but the Tour is not over yet. For me there is of course the time trial on the penultimate day. We’ll try again, but I think I will need a few days to recover first”.