A gruelling week of racing came to an end this Sunday on the Benelux Tour, with a final stage very much looking like the Tour of Flanders. In the repeated climbs of the Geraardsbergen and the Bosberg, Stefan Küng certainly suffered but fought through the end to keep his place in the top-5 of the general classification. He eventually finished in fifth place and already looks forward to defending his European champion jersey on the time trial.
“Stefan managed to limit his losses”, Jussi Veikkanen
On Sunday, the Benelux Tour headed to the Geraardsbergen’s Muur for a last fight. Perhaps the hardest one. However, the race got lively way before the final circuit. The first hour of racing was covered at an averaging speed exceeding 50km/h and no break was able to be established. “It was just a crazy start,” said Jussi Veikkanen. “There was action from kilometer 0 on. It was very hectic, and with the tailwind on the flat, the peloton was very nervous. Many riders wanted to be one step ahead before coming on the circuit”. After sixty kilometers or so, the bunch finally decided to let go eleven men, including Philippe Gilbert, Tosh van der Sande, Dries Devenyns, Daniel Oss or Toms Skujins. “With some contenders’ teammates up front, Bahrain-Victorious and Jumbo-Visma chased very fast,” added Jussi. The gap was therefore of only thirty seconds on the first passage of the “Muur”, seventy kilometres from the end. Still, the big moves already started. Matej Mohoric, Kasper Asgreen, Victor Campenaerts and Brandon McNulty bridged across the leading group while the other GC contenders, including Stefan Küng, stayed in the bunch.
A lap later, after going up the Bosberg and the Denderoordberg, the riders tackled the “Muur” another time and a few counter-attacks occurred in the peloton. Stefan Küng managed to follow them but the cooperation did not prove great right away. Some teammates then returned to the group, the chase started and the leading trio was actually caught twenty kilometres later. The favourites did not stay long together though, as Matej Mohoric took the lead in the Muur again while many chasing groups formed behind him. Stefan Küng then found himself forty seconds away from the head of the race. “It was a very tough and very tiring race, as always on this circuit,” explained the Swiss man. “I fought as hard as I could. I had ok feelings, but it was also down to positioning. In the last full passage up the Muur, I was not in a very good position at the bottom and I could not stay with the first ones”. In this final lap, a chasing duo made of Asgreen and Colbrelli were caught by a larger group, and Stefan Küng also returned with seven kilometres to go. “Stefan managed to limit his losses,” Jussi confessed. “It wasn’t his best day and he couldn’t keep up with the main GC guys. We were a little lucky that it all came together. Otherwise, he would have lost more places”.
“This week of racing will be useful”, Stefan Küng
The Swiss rider just lost one eventually, to Tim Wellens who collected a few seconds at the golden kilometer. Nineteenth on the stage, in the same time as the fourth and twenty-four seconds behind winner Matej Mohoric, Stefan Küng therefore dropped to fifth place after this final day of racing. “I’m happy to defend my place in the top 5 overall in the Benelux Tour,” he said. “Like I said before, I did not especially prepare for this race. It was more of a preparation race for me. The guys did a good job and some of them, like Attila, learned a lot on routes they didn’t know. I also believe that when you ride aiming to be in front, you learn more. They really gave their best and that will make them improve”. “We again saw Jake’s qualities, being comfortable in this kind of race,” Jussi said. “He managed to stay with Stefan for a very long time. The others also did their job. It was important to see a rider like Attila, even if he was not on his terrain, being able to go well with some motivation. It’s an experience that will be useful to him”.
On Sunday, Groupama-FDJ also achieved one of its best results of the season. “It’s a fifth place in a WorldTour stage race, that’s no small feat,” said Jussi. “It also shows that Stefan managed his break after the Olympics well, and his return to training. It was his first race since then and he now has a big block of goals coming up. I think he’ll be able to get better and better day after day”. “This week of racing will be useful”, Stefan said. “I will recover a bit and leave for Trento on Tuesday. I have watched the course already and I think it suits me. The goal is clearly to defend my jersey. Today my legs are very tired, but it will be fine on Thursday.”