The day after taking the lead of the Benelux Tour, Stefan Küng was really put under pressure on Saturday on Houffalize’s punchy circuit. On stage 6, the Swiss first benefited from his teammates’ precious help. In the last lap, however, he was unable to follow the main attacks, including the one of Sonny Colbrelli who soloed to the victory and the leader’s jersey. The time trial specialist still limited his losses in the back and is now fourth overall, 1’07 behind the leader and sixteen seconds behind the runner-up. Tomorrow, a “Flandrian” stage will conclude the event.
“I did my best and fought as hard as I could”, Stefan Küng
On Friday morning, Stefan Küng was indeed covered in blue at the start of Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve, as the new leader of the Benelux Tour. However, he had to face some 207 very hilly kilometres to try to defend it. Also, the very first minutes were not the easiest to handle. “We suffered two punctures, with Miles and Stefan, while the breakaway was not gone yet,” explained Jussi Veikkanen. “It was not the easiest situation to control the start of the race. There was also a light side wind, a few riders were dropped, and that briefly put us in trouble. However, once the breakaway was away, the bunch stopped and there were no additional issues.” After ten kilometers of racing, only Jonas Rickaert (Alpecin-Fenix) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) actually found themselves up front. “We wanted to give them the largest gap possible, and they quickly got a 7-8 minute lead,” added Jussi. “We then controlled a bit, but Lotto-Soudal came to pull later and Bahrain-Victorious also made the race harder midway through the stage. The race was on and it never paused again”. As it entered the first of two laps on the final circuit, the breakaway was even about to be caught. Soon after, in the côte du Bois des Moines, everything exploded.
Matej Mohoric, Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious) and Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) made a gap while Stefan Küng found himself in a chasing group with ten riders or so. Less than ten kilometers later, he got the support of Benjamin Thomas, Attila Valter and Jake Stewart, who made a big effort to come back on the blue jersey group. “The three of them were distanced, but fought hard to get into Stefan’s group about fifteen kilometres from the start of the second circuit,” Jussi said. “They started pulling with Deceuninck-Quick Step to reduce the gap with the leading trio. We actually got back just behind them at the bottom of the côte de Saint-Roch, the first hill of the circuit”. However, the attacks resumed immediately, and Stefan’s three teammates could not keep up anymore after their solid effort. Sonny Colbrelli then took the lead solo as five riders bridged across to Mohoric and Hirschi. Unfortunately, Stefan Küng was unable to go with them on the 10% slopes. “The team rode well, they did a good job,” said the Swiss rider. “Even though I had the leader’s jersey on, I knew other riders would be more comfortable today because the course was very hard. I did my best and fought as hard as I could. Unfortunately, when they attacked, I couldn’t keep up. In the back, there was no cooperation at all. I had to pull with other riders but I was on my limit”.
“We will fight to the end”, Jussi Veikkanen
In the last lap, Stefan Küng did everything he could not to lose too much time on Sonny Colbrelli and the seven chasers. “We didn’t have any more teammates to help Stefan,” Jussi said. “We tried to chase and limit the losses, but it was certainly not easy. Somehow we still managed to do so, but it was hard to fight against the others and in particular against Bahrain”. The Italian champion eventually took the stage victory and the leader’s jersey, while Stefan Küng crossed the line one minute and two seconds later, meaning twenty seconds behind the chasing group. On Saturday evening, he moved back to fourth place overall, 1’07 away from the Italian but only a handful of seconds away from the podium places. On Sunday, the final stage of the Benelux Tour will take place on a “Flandrian” kind of profile. “We knew the terrain did not suit us today,” added Jussi. “It was more for real punchers. We’re surely disappointed to lose the jersey but we will fight until the end. We will try to turn things around on our side, do a good stage and we will see the final result”. “It will be another tough day tomorrow, but it suits me better,” Stefan concluded. “We will give everything to get a good result in the general classification”.