In the hilly time trial to Montluçon, on stage 4 of Paris-Nice, Stefan Küng was only beaten by one team: Jumbo-Visma. Three of its members indeed preceded the double European time trial champion on the 13.4-kilometre course, and the Swiss rider eventually finished at a very solid fourth place. By the way, he netted his tenth consecutive top-5 for in the discipline, proving one more time his consistency. From Thursday on, Paris-Nice will tackle the climbs and a new race will begin for the Groupama-FDJ cycling team.
Before entering a completely different terrain, the “Race to the Sun” concluded its first half on Wednesday with a quite short time trial, of just over thirteen kilometres, but on a course that was not the most straightforward between Domérat and Montluçon. “It was a demanding route, with first of all a hill at the start which was quite long even if it was not steep. The middle part of the time trial was rather flat, without real dangers, then we had this last ramp over the last 500 meters (at 8%)”, presented David Han. “Overall, it was a nice time trial, and Stefan liked it. He expected it to be harder when he got there this morning, but he found it good enough during the recon”. Before the Swiss champion, the team’s other six riders took the start, and Valentin Madouas and David Gaudu were the first ones to get underway around 1.30pm. The French climber tried to save as much as possible ahead of the upcoming stages. “The goal was not to take any risks”, said David Han. “We had agreed to go easy. He may have taken a pace a bit too slow compared to his abilities, but he had to save himself. He now hopes to bounce back and is still motivated for the end of Paris-Nice. We’ll see how it goes day after day”. Almost an hour later, the Luxembourg champion also took the start, without proper ambitions though. “Initially, Kevin was supposed to go full-gas on the time trial, because he is a specialist”, continued David. “However, following his crash yesterday, he felt some pain in his elbow. We didn’t want to push it, and all the guys managed their race pretty well in the end.”
“A solid performance”, Stefan Küng
The last man to set off for Groupama-FDJ, Stefan Küng left the ramp at 2:46 p.m. and immediately showed he was competing for the win as he crossed the checkpoint just one second behind Rohan Dennis’ best time. A few kilometres later, after a steep finish, he eventually conceded four seconds to the Australian. Later, Primoz Roglic and Wout van Aert beat their teammate, which therefore made the Swiss drop down to fourth place on the day, ten seconds behind the Belgian winner. “I knew it was a difficult course for me, but I felt good and there is no secret in the time trial”, said Stefan. ”I did a solid performance but other guys were just stronger today. I did what I could, I tried to gain time in the sections that suited me, but with a little bit more punch in the final climb, I could have gained a few seconds. I may be fifteen kilos heavier than someone like Roglic, but I gave it my all”. “It’s a good performance, he doesn’t have any regrets,” added David Han. “In terms of power, he was around his maximum data. He felt that he had strength throughout the time trial, he was clean in the trajectories and technically speaking. It was not maybe the ideal profile for Stefan, but in terms of performance, we don’t have regrets tonight. No matter the adversity and no matter the course, he’s always there. He ends up behind the three Jumbo-Visma’s riders today, but there are not many people missing on the startlist”. With this fourth place, the double European champion achieved his tenth consecutive top-5s in the time trial. After the race against the clock this Wednesday, the race will take on the mountains starting tomorrow on Paris-Nice.