For several days, Stefan Küng was only thinking about the last time trial of the Tour de France. The European champion gave everything through the vineyards in Bordeaux’ surroundings, but it was not enough on Saturday to get the only place that interested him: the first one. Runner-up to Pogacar in Laval, the Swiss rider eventually finished 4th in this twentieth stage, a bit more than thirty seconds behind the winner Wout Van Aert. On the eve of the final day of racing in Paris, and before flying to Tokyo, Stefan Küng brought Groupama-FDJ its eighth top-10 in this 2021 edition of the Tour de France.
In the minutes following his second place in Laval’s time trial, Stefan Küng already had thoughts on Saint-Émilion’s one, scheduled on the penultimate day of the Tour. After making it through the Pyrenees quite well, the Swiss champion seemed quite ready for this final time trial, contested on a very rolling 30-kilometre course made for specialists. However, before the European champion set off around 3:30 pm, the silver medallist of the last French time trial championship left the ramp. On a good day, Bruno Armirail set a very solid time that provisionally placed him in third place. Eventually, the Frenchman took a decent twelfth place at the end of his very first Tour de France. “My time trial was alright,” he explained. “But having been sick lately, I didn’t have as much power as I use to. I really felt it today. I would have liked to compete in this time trial at my maximal potential, but I hope I will have the opportunity to do so in the next few years.”
“I will come back”, Stefan Küng
An hour after Bruno Armirail, Stefan Küng also took the start of the time trial. Named by many as one of the day’s favourites, the European champion pushed hard right from the beginning and even had a ten-second lead at the first checkpoint. “I absolutely wanted to win today,” said the Swiss rider later. “I felt really good and I was really motivated at the start. Maybe too much, actually. I started too hard and I then paid for it. I’m a specialist and I know what to do, but we’re on the Tour, and I was so motivated. I thought it could be my day. I really wanted to pull it off. I felt really confident, and having already been second twice on the Tour, I absolutely wanted this victory. Maybe I got a little excited, and once you get into the red zone, you can’t really recover in such a time trial. Then, it all gets very complicated and it’s just pure suffering”. At the second checkpoint, the Swiss rider thus lost all his advantage and eventually crossed the line thirteen seconds slower than Kasper Asgreen. Jonas Vingegaard, and above all the winner Wout van Aert, also beat him later and the Swiss champion had to settle for fourth place today.
“Stefan was really looking forward to this time trial, in order to do the best possible result, but some were better than us today,” simply said Marc Madiot. “I surely am disappointed,” added the bronze medallist of the last World Time Trial Championship. “When you absolutely want to win, you can also make mistakes, but there will be other opportunities. That being said, Wout’s time puts everything back in perspective. He did what I wanted to do: crush everyone. But I will come back”. Three times in the top-5 on this year’s Tour de France, Stefan Küng won’t be relaxing for long after tomorrow’s finish in Paris, as he will aim for a medal in the Olympic Games’ time trial. “I know I’m in shape, and I feel like I am recovering well because I had great legs today,” he said. “I am confident for Tokyo”. David Gaudu will also fly to Japan at the end of the Tour, while he secured eleventh place overall on Saturday’s time trial. Tomorrow, the Tour will end as usual with a sprinters’ stage in the streets of Paris. “It’s always special to arrive on the Champs Élysées”, concluded David. “I think of Bruno, for whom it will be a first experience. Personally, my head is already on the Olympic Games in a week’s time”.