Stefan proved to be one of the main entertainers of the 2024 Grand Prix de Denain. Unfortunately, neither his efforts nor his “panache” was rewarded on Thursday in the North of France. After a thirty-kilometre solo ride through the first cobbled sectors, behind a well-organized breakaway, the Groupama-FDJ rider then entered a chasing group including Lewis Askey. The Briton unfortunately punctured with thirty kilometres to go, while the Swiss man crashed at the beginning of the very last sector. He therefore couldn’t fight for the first positions while Jannik Steimle won from the breakaway. A frustrating outcome.

A few weeks before the Hell of the North, some riders got a small glimpse of it on Thursday. For several years, the Grand Prix de Denain has indeed been nicknamed the “mini-Paris-Roubaix”, since it now includes twenty-three kilometres of cobblestones over twelve sectors in the last 80 kilometres. Stefan Küng himself approached the French event as a “test”, the day after his return to racing in the Nokere Koerse. Before the proper business began, the peloton had to do three loops around Denain, in what was a quite straightforward first part of the race. “The morning break of five riders went after around fifteen kilometres,” explained Frédéric Guesdon. “The bunch really started to pace up twenty kilometres before the first sector.” The leading group, made up of Jannik Steimle, James Fouché, Paul Hennequin, Maxime Jarnet and Ceriel Desal, still tackled the first cobbles with a five-minute gap while the fight then started straight away in the pack. “We arrived in very good position in the first sector,” said Frédéric. “Then six riders including Stefan made a gap, with a peloton split apart following a crash which involved Matt Walls.” “We knew it would be very tricky with the muddy and greasy sectors,” added Stefan Küng. “We were six after the sector, unfortunately the others didn’t want to work. When I took my turn, I found myself all alone. I thought that I’d rather stay in front to be safe in the following sectors. Given the conditions, I thought that I was better up there than in the peloton.”

“I didn’t see it coming”, Stefan Küng

More than seventy kilometres from the finish, the former double European time trial champion took a step ahead of the peloton and came back just three minutes behind the breakaway. “I certainly left a bit of energy up there,” Stefan confessed. “Then, when I saw that I was no longer coming back on the breakaway, because I was all alone on a very rolling course, I waited a bit.” “It was a difficult situation because he was a bit in between,” added Frédéric. “He had to keep some energy because we were still far from the finish. He waited for a group to come back from behind, but it took a long time.” During his thirty kilometres solo, the Swiss rider even took a minute-lead at one point, but a counterattack finally emerged after the seventh sector of the day, with Lewis Askey in there. Around ten men managed to join Stefan Küng forty kilometres from the finish, and the cooperation slowly took place. Unfortunately, when the riders got back on the cobbles with thirty kilometres to go, Groupama-FDJ lost its British rider due to a puncture. Only Stefan Küng remained in the chasing group, still three minutes behind a three-man breakaway. With better collaboration as the kilometres went by, the chasers eventually managed to gain time on the leaders, and the gap was even less than a minute entering the last sector, twelve kilometres from the finish. “Despite my effort earlier in the race, I still felt good, and I was waiting for this last sector,” explained Stefan. “There was a lot of mud there, it was wet, and although I wanted to not take risks, I slipped. I did not see it coming”.

“We did the race we wanted to do”, Frédéric Guesdon

At the head of the group at that point, the Swiss took his rivals with him to the ground. Some managed to get back on their bike fast, but he didn’t. “I had nothing, but my bike was broken,” he said. “I had to change it and the race was lost”. Stefan needed to try to get rid of the sprinters,” added Frédéric. “He went for it, but we know what happened. We came down from two riders in chase to just one, then to zero.” In the end, the breakaway even managed to stay away, and Jannik Steimle took victory. Stefan Küng reached the line in a small peloton that came for ninth place about a minute later, and the Swiss rider placed 26th. “It’s a real shame because I felt very good and the guys did a good job to position me,” concluded Stefan. “It’s frustrating. I’m certainly good physically speaking, but we don’t race for this. We race for results, to win. Let’s still take out the positive, and I am doing well. I have a few scratches, but nothing serious. Hopefully we’ll have a bit more luck in the next Classics, especially in Roubaix, but I’m confident.”We gave our best, we were up there, and we did the race we wanted to do,” Frédéric added. “Then, you can’t have everything under control… We’re disappointed to leave without a result, but we’ll stay motivated for the next races. We will keep trying and hopefully luck will be on our side. Stefan needed to race a bit and he was up there the last two days. He will now head to Milan-Sanremo and that should be enough for the Classics. He will have made up for his lack of competition.”

Stefan Küng, Matt Walls, Enzo Paleni and Marc Sarreau all suffered a crash this Thursday. The French sprinter will have to undergo additional tests on Friday after hurting his elbow.

No comment