Like in the past few years, Stefan Küng faced his first time trial test of the season in Portugal on Saturday, on stage 4 of the Volta ao Algarve. A winner of the race against the clock last year, the Swiss rider obtained a very good third place in Albufeira today, in very different circumstances, and was only beaten by the world champion Remco Evenepoel and Magnus Sheffield. Thanks to his performance, he gained fourteen places overall and finds himself fifth on the eve of the double ascent of Malhāo.

This year, the riders of the Volta ao Algarve were not in Lagoa but in Albufeira for the traditional time trial of race. The distance nevertheless remained quite close to those of past editions, with twenty-two kilometers on the menu, but on a very different profile than in 2023 when Stefan Küng won ahead of Rémi Cavagna and Filippo Ganna. “It was up and down the whole time,” explained Julien Pinot. “There were almost no flat portions. It was also technical, with lots of corners, speed bumps and median strips. You had to be careful all the time. The fastest climb was at the start of the race, but there were also two climbs of one kilometre in the end. It was important to start fast but to keep in mind that the last two hills would also make the difference.” Within the Groupama-FDJ team, all hopes obviously were on the Swiss man’s shoulders, whose start was scheduled for 2:52 p.m. local time. Before he set off, Isaac del Toro had the best provisional time at the finish. However, Magnus Sheffield, who started a few minutes before the former European champion, beat the Mexican in the various time checks.

“It’s a good starting point”, Stefan Küng

Perfectly in the rhythm, Stefan Küng crossed the first timing point eight seconds behind the American. He was nine seconds behind on the second timing point, and eventually completed the course thirteen seconds slower, which put him in provisional second position. “He managed his effort perfectly”, said Julien. “We said that he shouldn’t be afraid to start strong, but he finished really well in the last two climbs, and that’s a positive sign for his condition.” Then, among the eighteen riders who started after him, only one managed to set a better mark: the world champion Remco Evenepoel. The Belgian even won the time trial in 27’09, twenty-nine seconds better than Stefan Küng, third in the stage but fully satisfied. “It was a good first test, especially given my crash on the time trial at the end of the season, even though I wasn’t thinking too much about it,” said the Swiss rider. “Physically, I’m on schedule. There is still a little margin, but that is ok because it is my first race. Given the field, it wasn’t easy to get this third place. Of course, I’m almost half a minute behind Remco, but I think it’s a route that suited the climbers/punchers more than pure time trialists like me. For me it is also positive because the winter was intense, even if Wilier Triestina supported us a lot during the whole process. I still have room for improvement, but it’s a good starting point. We can see that the work over the winter is paying off and I really feel that I am going to get better after this race.”

“This podium rewards everyone’s investment”, Julien Pinot

“Finishing on the podium today is proof that his preparation and the rehabilitation he has followed since October went well,” also recalled his coach Julien Pinot. “In this regard, I am personally satisfied with his performance. Evenepoel was the favourite and there are no surprises from this point of view. Aside from that, the field was worthy of a championship. Tarling was missing, maybe one or two GC riders, but the big rouleurs like Ganna and Van Aert are behind him. This is very interesting, knowing that Stefan only worked on the time trial at the end of his preparation. For a first test, it’s really positive and it’s motivating for the future because we know that his condition is growing. This third place finally rewards all the work done with the entire performance team for the time trial, because the winter was extremely busy with material changes. We had to transfer Stefan’s position, we had to work a lot on all the equipment to get everything ready today, and it was ready indeed. For this also, this podium rewards everyone’s investment in the team, and in Wilier’s staff. It’s good and motivating for the future.” Thanks to his third place, Stefan Kung also moved up fourteen places overall.

He is now fifth in GC, even if the double ascent of Malhāo (2.5 km at 10%) could be tough on Sunday. “I’m going to try to limit my losses, and I’m going to give it my all,” Stefan concluded. I know this climb well, it’s going to be hard, but it would still be nice to come home with a top-10 overall.” “There are still a lot of climbers who are less than a minute away,” said Julien. “He will hang on and make efforts that will also benefit him for the future and the races that await him, especially in Belgium.”

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