For some time, Stefan Küng thought it was HIS day on the Tour de France. In the first time trial of the event, contested on Marc Madiot’s lands, the Swiss and European TT champion did hold the best time for a while. However, Tadej Pogacar destroyed his hopes in the last minutes of the race, and the Tour winner actually was the only one to ride faster than “King Küng” on stage 5 this Wednesday. A frustrating runner-up position, but one that fills revenge… As for David Gaudu, he put on a good fight in this first crucial test of the Tour.
“I can’t blame myself for anything”, Stefan Küng
On Wednesday, the Tour settled down in the land of the Madiot brothers, and the team actually had some ambitions on this special day through its time trial specialist Stefan Küng. “It is always difficult to be a prophet in your country”, said Marc in the morning. However, the hard-going course from Changé to Laval, over 27.2 kilometers, surely suited the European champion. “Stefan is going to have fun,” even claimed Arnaud Démare, the team’s first starter, after completing his time trial. When the Swiss machine hit the starting ramp, Dane Mikkel Bjerg still had the fastest time at the finish, and the sky was finally clearing after a rainy episode. Stefan Küng started his mission at 3:31 p.m., and was already fulfilling it perfectly after ten kilometers, being nine seconds faster in the first checkpoint. He increased that gap to twenty-four at the second intermediate, and with power and style, went on to improve the best time by 36 seconds at the finish. “I felt really good”, he said a few minutes later. “In this kind of course, you have to go really hard all the time, but not too much otherwise you blow up. I think I managed it quite well and I hope that will be enough for the win today.”
For almost an hour, it looked like that. A handful of riders certainly came close to his performance, but all of them ended up struggling in the final part. Even his biggest opponent on paper, Wout van Aert, couldn’t keep up until the very end. Ultimately, the danger came from a GC contender. After scoring the best times at the first and second checkpoints, Tadej Pogacar eventually beat Stefan Küng for eighteen seconds on the line. Gutted at first glance, the Swiss rider then proved fair play. “We already saw last year on the Planche des Belles Filles time trial what he was capable of,” he said. “He came ready on the Tour and he is in my opinion the best rider in the world. He was very strong, so hats off to him for his performance. We all did a great job, we all gave it our all. I can’t blame myself for anything. I did what I could and what I wanted. Obviously, I’m still disappointed because I came to win and not to come second, but the Tour is not over. There is one time trial left and I hope his opponents will tire him out in the mountains a bit and that I can get my revenge”.
“We are almost where we wanted to be”, Marc Madiot
A runner-up for the second time in his career on the Tour, Stefan Küng will gofor more in the vineyards of Saint-Émilion later in the race. In the meantime, local man Marc Madiot tried to think positively about the day. “We’re almost where we wanted to be,” he said. “There wasn’t much missing. There is nothing to complain about in terms of support, equipment, or the way we managed the race. I think Stefan did the perfect time trial. One guy was just stronger than us, but other than that, everything was executed in an exceptional way. It’s quite a good day with Stefan’s second place and David’s good race. David remains in the top 20 overall and is quite close to the best climbers. This is a very interesting situation ahead of the next decisive events of the Tour”. On Wednesday, the young rider from Brittany limited his losses thanks to a good time of 34’14’’. Tonight he sits 17th overall, 2’35 behind Mathieu van der Poel, but less than a minute from the top 10. “I’m satisfied,” he said. “I think I was even above the initial plans in terms of watts. I’m happy with my time trial, and it’s a good start to the Tour overall. Everyone is committed. It didn’t pay off for Stefan today, but I think everyone has the legs in the team and it would be good to pull it off tomorrow with Arnaud in the sprint”. “We will stay focused and go for a stage victory as quickly as possible, maybe tomorrow with Arnaud if he has recovered all his means,” concluded Marc.