The Groupama-FDJ’s week in Valence just keeps getting better. In Saturday’s time trial, Stefan Küng brought the third victory of the team in the race, which is also the first one for him this season. On his terrain, the European champion clearly dominated the event and even took the opportunity to grab the yellow jersey. Miles Scotson and Arnaud Démare, the other winners this week, also made it in the day’s top-5, as the event is set to come to an end on Sunday with another opportunity for the French champion.

At the start of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana’s individual time trial, designed over fourteen kilometers between Xilves and Playa Almenara, Stefan Küng surely was the man to beat. European and Swiss champion, a bronze medallist at the Worlds and second in that event on Tirreno-Adriatico, the Swiss rider indeed had a pedigree to show for his status. “We have to be honest,” said Thierry Bricaud. “We really were hoping to win the stage with Stefan”. Seventh overall this morning, the Swiss man was therefore supposed to be among the last ones to leave the start area. Much earlier though, Arnaud Démare already set a very interesting time, which actually allowed him to sit in the hot seat for about an hour. Thibault Guernalec then came to steal the best time from him, and Miles Scotson only failed for a second to the young Frenchman a little later. Eventually, as the European champion was about to start, two Groupama-FDJ’s riders were already on the provisional stage’s podium.

“The bike was prepared like a rocket”, Stefan Küng

“I felt very confident considering how I had been going in the previous days,” Stefan explained. “I knew I was able to win on my terrain. However, I still needed to execute and everything was done perfectly. As usual, the bike was prepared like a rocket. The staff did their part and then it was up to me to let the legs do the talking. The time trial was mainly headwind. It was an advantage for me because it made it more difficult and I was able to make the difference as a pure specialist. I did my best and I’m happy with my performance”. Stefan Küng first got to the intermediate point with a large lead and then set the fastest time for 40 seconds when he got to the line. Only Nelson Oliveira managed to enter the fight for the stage win, but the Portuguese eventually lost 11 seconds. “The final result seems easy and logical”, summed up Thierry. “However, if you look closely, Oliveira is not that far. It came down to little details, and in the end, they were on our side. It is very good”. Although the victory was quite expected in the time trial, the battle for the yellow jersey was set to be much tighter.

“I wanted to give the maximum because I knew that by doing a good time, the GC win was still doable,” said Stefan Küng. After eight kilometers, the Swiss had only recovered twenty-one out of the fifty-one seconds needed on Enric Mas. However, things started to look good for the Swiss rider in the second part of the race, where the Spaniard seemed to struggle before he even suffered a flat tire in the dying moments. “At the flamme rouge, Mas had already lost the jersey, and it looks like he punctured after”, added Thierry. “It wouldn’t have changed anything. We are sure that Stefan has taken the jersey with the legs. It’s a shame for Mas, but it did not change anything”. “Right after the intermediate point, I saw on TV that he was starting to struggle,” Stefan said. “Maybe he started too hard. I would have preferred to take the jersey from him without something happening to him, but that’s sport and I’m happy to be in yellow.” A winner for the first time this year, the Swiss rider is also now sitting in first place overall, six seconds ahead of Nelson Oliveira, and thirty-six ahead of Enric Mas.

“To finish the week in style”, Thierry Bricaud

As for the icing on the cake on Saturday, Miles Scotson (4th) and Arnaud Démare (5th) were also able to enter the final top 5 in the time trial. “The team performance shows that we are doing very well with the equipment and the preparation, and that we know how to execute everything on D-Day,” said Küng. “When a rider wins and his teammates are far away, you can put it down to the rider’s talent. When you have a team performance like today, it’s just proof that the job done by the team is paying off. It’s really nice and I really have the feeling that we have passed a milestone with this new bike”.It’s always good to do the TT seriously, otherwise you lose the habit of doing it,” added Thierry. “The team works a lot in this area, with the coaches and on the equipment. Everyone is involved and wants to do things well, riders and staff, so it’s good to have some results to show for it in the races”.

On the eve of the last, very short stage (91 km), the Groupama-FDJ already got three stage wins, the yellow jersey and also another man in the GC’s top-10 with Miles Scotson (9th). “Our expectations are obviously really met at the moment, but we are not going to stop here”, said Thierry Bricaud. “Knowing the riders, they have only one thing in mind for tomorrow: keep the jersey and go for the sprint. We will do everything to finish the week in style”. If I had been told at the start of the race that I would be in yellow after the time trial, I would have laughed”, concluded Stefan. “But this is sport, anything is possible! You always have to believe in your chances. We now want to offer Arnaud a last sprint and we have a very good lead-out train to help him. To finish with another victory and the yellow jersey would be perfect for the team”.

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