On Thursday, the Volta ao Algarve’s overall classification already got clearer on the heights of Monchique. At the top of Alto da Fóia, after two very fast last kilometres, Dani Martinez took the win ahead of Remco Evenepoel while Stefan Küng put on a good fight to secure twentieth place, forty-three seconds behind the winner. The French champion Valentin Madouas was unfortunately unable to take part in the big fight on stage 2. On Friday, the sprinters should be back in action.

As usual, the first test for the Volta ao Algarve’s GC contenders was located at the summit of the Alto da Fóia on Thursday. A well-known place, which Groupama-FDJ also conquered back in 2022 thanks to David Gaudu. Last season, Valentin Madouas barely missed the podium on that same climb. “We started with Val and Stefan as leaders: one for the stage, the other for the GC, in order to lose as little time as possible,” introduced Frédéric Guesdon. Before the last thirty quite hilly kilometers, the peloton controlled a breakaway made of Max Walker (Astana Qazaqstan), Oliver Rees (Sabgal/Anicolor), Martin Urianstad Bugge (Uno-X Mobility), Aleksandr Grigorev (Efapel), Rúben Simão (APHotels & Resorts/Tavira/SC Farensede), Pedro Silva (ABTF Betão – Feirense), César Martingil and Gonçalo Amado (Tavfer-Ovos Matinados-Mortágua), later strengthened by Jonas Abrahamsen and Andreas Leknessund (Uno-X Mobility). In the first of the final’s three climbs, the gap was reduced to two minutes and the bunch got a little bit thinner. “We expected that Soudal-Quick Step would make the race harder,” said Frédéric. “They still rode fast, it wasn’t easy, but we thought there would be more selection. It really went hard and exploded on the penultimate climb, and a group of about thirty riders got clear with the main favorites.”

“The day’s outcome is rather positive”, Stefan Küng

Stefan Küng was up there, but not his teammate Valentin Madouas, who was distanced just before the summit. “It’s an addition of factors,” said Frédéric. “He may not be at his best, and there is a little aftereffect from yesterday’s crash as well. At this level, when you miss these small percentages, you find yourself quite far”. A small peloton therefore tackled the final climb of the Alto de Fóia (7.5 km at 6%), and the last breakaway rider Andreas Leknessund was caught at the bottom. Then the selection continued to happen slowly from the back. “Every year, the goal for Stefan is a bit the same: to hang on as much as possible in order to stay in the mix,” explained Frédéric. “It worked for him in previous years, and we must not forget that Stefan is not a pure climber either.” The Swiss man put on a brave ride and eventually remained alongside the punchers and climbers until the last 1500 metres. “The last two kilometers were exposed, with a little side wind,” Frédéric added. “The big names attacked at that moment and that made the difference.” In a final sprint against Remco Evenepoel, Dani Martinez took victory while Stefan Küng fought hard to the end to cross the line in twentieth place, 43 seconds later. “It went very fast, it was tough, but it’s not surprising given the field,” he said. “I tried to do my best and hang on. I was feeling good, but not super great. I certainly lost a bit of time, but with this pace, I couldn’t do better. This race is part of my preparation, so I’m quite happy and the day’s outcome is rather positive.”

“It’s never easy to compare the years,” Frédéric concluded. “Of course, we couldn’t contest the win this year, and we expected better in terms of results. Yet, it’s not catastrophic either because we had two goals. Things didn’t go right for the stage, but for the GC, Stefan is still on time.” On Thursday evening, the Swiss rider sits nineteenth overall, fifty-three seconds behind Martinez, and twenty-five from the top-10. “We will see from day to day, and especially on Saturday, if Stefan makes a good jump in the ranking,” Frédéric said. “Tomorrow, it’s not all flat, but it won’t be easy to avoid the sprint. Marc is there but is not one of the favorites. Last year, Valentin managed to slip into a move in the final, but tomorrow, everyone will be very careful for it not to happen again”.

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