Stefan Küng certainly dreamed of the BinckBank Tour’s final victory on Saturday, but the Swiss rider, like the rest of the bunch, came up against a stronger man: Mathieu van der Poel. The Dutchman attacked with 75 kilometers to go and pulled it off, taking the stage and the overall classification. Just behind, Stefan Küng proved to be among the strongest and took fifth place in the day, eight seconds behind the winner. He therefore confirmed his third place on the final podium, which is the best result on the race in the Groupama-FDJ’s history.
“We believed we could do it”, Frédéric Guesdon
Although he got beaten in Friday’s time trial, Stefan Küng was still fully in contention for the final victory of the BinckBank Tour on Saturday’s fifth stage, which featured a real Flemish Classic route with the Muur van Geraardsbergen to be climbed 4 times and a half. “We entered the day thinking to the GC victory,” said the Swiss rider, who was 13 seconds behind the leader Mads Pedersen and six behind Soren Kragh Andersen this morning. “We knew it would be difficult, but we believed we could do it because there weren’t big gaps between the leaders,” added his sports director Frédéric Guesdon. Before the big fight anticipated on the Flemish cobbled climbs, a breakaway of eight riders went at the start, with the Belgian champion Dries De Bondt among them. The break never took a consequent lead, but the Alpecin-Fenix rider proved to be useful with 70 kilometers to go as he gave a hand to Mathieu van der Poel who attacked in the second time up the Mur de Grammont with Florian Sénéchal. “When he goes, I’m on the wrong side of the road in the Muur, and I get a bit boxed in by other riders”, Stefan said. “But anyway, we had planned to stay calm, because we knew it would be a hard race in the end”.
“He’s a phenomenon and you necessarily gamble a bit when letting him go,” explained Frédéric Guesdon, “but honestly, we didn’t think he would have made it until the end. We let others control first as there were just four of us since Léo Vincent did not feel well. We waited but we knew that there was still going to be attacks in the end, and that it was going to hurt. Stefan was supposed to move only if Kragh Andersen and Pedersen would do it”. In the third ascent of the Muur, with fifty kilometers to go, Van der Poel went solo in the lead as the favourites started to test each other and the bunch got reduced to 50 men or so. Stefan Küng showed early on he was on a good day. “His teammates knew he was in good shape and had the possibility to fight with the best,” Fred continued. “They did what they could to make his life easier, by positioning him in the strategic areas”. However, things really got serious in the next lap. The penultimate climb of the “Muur” reduced the favourites’ group to six riders and the race leader Pedersen was left behind just after in the Bosberg. Stefan Küng managed to hold the wheel of Soren Kragh Andersen and Oliver Naesen. Sonny Colbrelli also made the cut but Mathieu van der Poel still enjoyed a forty-second lead with 20 kilometres to go.
“The guys went out of their way for me”, Stefan Küng
“Unfortunately Naesen didn’t want to ride with us and the cooperation wasn’t great,” Küng said. There were still some solid pulls in the chasing group, and the gap to van der Poel even reduced to 15 seconds after the last climb with six kilometers to go. After a breath-taking finale, van der Poel managed to hold a sufficient margin to get the win in the Muur van Geraardsbergen. Küng was fifth, just eight seconds back. “Van der Poel did a great race, the strongest guy won”, said the Swiss man, who still climbed on the podium together with the Dutchman and Kragh Andersen. “To be third overall in a WorldTour race is always great,” he said. “I want to say a big thank you to my team, and especially to Kevin, Tobias and Fabian who did a great job. They gave their all, they were really hardworking and went out of their way for me. It gave me motivation to fight until the end”. “We are satisfied, the team fought the best they could,” added Frédéric. “Everyone respected the mission he had, and this is a collective result. As far as I’m concerned, there are no regrets, and I don’t think Stefan has any. This result in a WorldTour race is important for the team”.
Now it’s time for other WorldTour events: the cobbled Classics. “When I left the Tour, I also had the Classics’ preparation in mind, and we decided that I would do the BinckBank Tour in that perspective”, added Stefan. “After a short week of racing I think it was really the right choice. We got to ride together, get our bearings, and I’m looking forward to tackling the Classics with the guys.” “We have a leader who is capable of fighting with the best in Ghent, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix,” Frédéric said. “We will do everything to put him in good conditions and to give him the best support possible”.