Stefan Küng and the entire Groupama-FDJ team did believe in the win on Tuesday. In the closing time trial of Tirreno-Adriatico, the European champion had the best time on the 10,1-kilometer course for a while, proving even faster than the world champion. At the end of the day, however, the penultimate rider to start (namely Wout Van Aert) beat him. The Swiss rider could only be hugely disappointed, but the team could also be satisfied with a remarkable performance as a whole since four of its riders made it into the day’s top 15. Which was a good way to conclude this 2021 Tirreno-Adriatico.
On a course almost identical to that of the previous years, Tirreno-Adriatico ended on Tuesday with the usual “round trip” time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto. The stage had been rather successful for the Groupama-FDJ cycling team last year, and also started on a good way in this 2021 edition thanks to Kevin Geniets. First rider to take the start, the Luxembourger set a solid seventh provisional time at the finish. A few minutes later, Tobias Ludvigsson came only one second behind the best time of Michael Hepburn, taking second provisionally. However, the biggest hopes for today’s stage obviously leant on Stefan Küng. These hopes proved to be confirmed since the Swiss rider first set the best time at the intermediate point before increasing his advantage on the finish line (12 seconds ahead of Alberto Bettiol, editor’s note).
“I will do everything to be able to win the next time”, Stefan Küng
“The wind played a role in this time trial”, explained Stefan shortly after the finish. “It was tailwind on the way out and front wind on the way back. You had to go with a good speed until the intermediate and then be able to up the pace a little bit, because it was more important on the way back. I managed it quite well. I’m really happy with my effort. I really did what I planned to do. Still, it was really difficult. In the end, I said to myself: “If I really want to win today, I have to go to the absolute limits. My legs were saying “stop stop stop” but I kept pushing. I was really aiming for victory. It didn’t matter if I blew up and finished fifth, I wanted to give it my all.” At 14:34, he then set the bar very high with a time of 11’12. Less than ten minutes later, the world champion Filippo Ganna himself did not manage to go faster (+ 5’’), which showed the major performance established by the Swiss rider. No one really came close to his best time for a while after that, except … his own teammate Benjamin Thomas. The Frenchman crossed the line with a remarkable third place, behind the European and world champions. A little later, Thibaut Pinot also delivered a great performance, just outside the top 10.
After more than an hour and a half in the hot seat, Stefan Küng finally saw the very last competitors take the start, and one of them actually ruined his hopes. One second ahead at the intermediate, Wout Van Aert crossed the finish line six seconds faster than the Groupama-FDJ’s rider. “When you beat the reigning world champion and spend almost two hours in the hot seat, it’s a shame to be beaten by the penultimate rider,” Stefan said. “That’s sports however, there is nothing you can do. A stronger guy beat me today. The results for the whole team are good, but we’re here to win. I’m not going to be satisfied with second place and I’ll do everything to be able to win next time”. “We are all very disappointed for Stefan”, added Sébastien Joly. “The wind played its part as it was much less stronger when Van Aert got on the way. He almost did not suffer from it on the way back, which allowed him to grab a few seconds”. “This is obviously a disappointment for Stefan to come so close,” confirmed his coach Julien Pinot. “We could already see him as a winner because he had such a great performance. He beat Filippo Ganna head-to-head, in the same wind conditions, which is very positive”.
“We must stay on track”, Sébastien Joly
At the finish, Stefan Küng had to settle for second while the team also had Benjamin Thomas (5th), Tobias Ludvigsson (10th) and Thibaut Pinot (15th) in the day’s top 15. Benjamin also shared his feelings at the finish: “The whole team was motivated to do well and we can see it on the results sheet. Personally, this is my first WorldTour top 5 on a time trial. Considering the riders who are in front of me, and the very high level there is on this race, I am obviously happy. It was one of my best performances in a time trial. I would now like to reproduce this kind of performance and keep this level on longer distances”. “It’s a very good day on a collective point of view, with Benjamin doing a superb TT, with another nice top 10 for Tobias, and with Thibaut who had never done so well on this course”, added Julien. “All this allows us to end this Tirreno Adriatico in a good way”. It was eventually up to Sébastien Joly to take stock of this past week: “Results-wise, we hoped for better. We cannot say otherwise. However, the guys were committed all week, especially Rudy (16th), and we really closed ranks in the last two days. With this good time trial, we could also see that the riders are doing well physically. We also had some tough races last year, but the good days always come. We must stay on track and keep our morale up”.
For Stefan Küng, the track is now leading to the Classics. “The condition is good,” he concluded. “I had some doubts in the first part of this Tirreno, but I finished well. My little move yesterday and my performance today gave me a lot of confidence for the races to come. I’ll take a few days to recover, but for sure this Tirreno is going to give me a boost. The preparation has been good so far, I think I’m ready for the Classics and I’m looking forward to it”.