Gold medals keep coming in the Groupama-FDJ house these days. After Arnaud Démare and Kevin Geniets’ national titles on Sunday, Stefan Küng put on a pretty star-spangled jersey on Monday. The Swiss rider won the European title in Plouay, claiming his very first gold medal in an international road championship. After 25.6 kilometre, the 26-year-old rouleur proved to be 17 seconds faster than the Frenchman Rémi Cavagna. His teammate Anthony Roux finished in tenth place.
Initially, the European Time Trial Championship was not on Stefan Küng’s plans for this second part of the 2020 season. Logically enough, the 26-year-old rider was more aiming for the Worlds that were supposed to take place at home, in Swiss lands. However, when it was announced that the event could not take place in Switzerland, the former individual pursuit world champion adjusted very quickly. “We were initially ready to sacrifice the European Championship in order to get as fresh as possible, physically and mentally, at the start of the Tour,” confirmed Julien Pinot, his coach. “When we learned during the Dauphiné that the Worlds were cancelled, we immediately turned ourselves towards the European Championship. Since the Worlds would not take place on the last Sunday of the Tour, it was then less disadvantageous to leave a week before the Tour’s Grand Départ. Also, the preparation for the World Championship’ time trial was supposed to stop at this point, and eventually, all the work had already been done during the lockdown period, also in June, July and between races. Stefan even preferred to return home between the Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo to do a few time trial sessions and work on this quality”.
“As soon as I left the ramp, I felt the legs were great”, Stefan Küng
Although he appeared as one of the favourites at the start of the European Championship on Monday, Stefan Küng had a rather unusual approach to the event. “The most difficult part for him was after the Dauphiné, where he worked a lot for Thibaut, added Julien. When he got back on the time trial bike in the middle of the week, it proved a bit complicated for his muscles. I told him not to worry because he had to first assimilate this very mountainous and difficult Dauphiné before getting back to good work sessions on Thursday and Friday. In any case, it may be the first time since I started training him that he had bad feelings in training. Nevertheless, it enabled him to get the engine rolling again and it undoubtedly brought him strength and power in this time trial”. “My last race to date was the Critérium du Dauphiné, where we climbed every day”, Stefan said. “So when I got back on my time trial bike last week, I really didn’t have a good feeling. Then it got better and better, and today I finally had a really good feeling on my bike. As soon as I left the ramp, I felt the legs were great, and it was fun from then on.”
The Swiss rider started his race in penultimate position, two minutes after the former double European champion Victor Campenaerts and one minute behind the Italian Edoardo Affini, who deprived him of the bronze medal for less than a second last year. Today, however, he immediately showed his strength, setting the best time at the first intermediate point, seven seconds ahead of Rémi Cavagna. “It was a typical course of Brittany, with quite a rough surface, twisty and with ups and downs,” Stefan explained. “You just had to keep pushing and staying focused, and I like that! I like an honest time trial where you have to ride full gas from start to finish. I had a plan in mind and I was able to execute it perfectly.” “We said this morning that it was a time trial that looked a bit like that of the Tour of Algarve, where he usually does well because it is a bit hilly with small climbs and a few technical sections”, added his trainer Julien Pinot. The French champion accelerated in the second part of the race but the Swiss champion did it even more, and therefore increased his advantage on the line to seventeen seconds on the Deceuninck- Quick Step’s rider, who proved to be his closest rival on Monday.
“Stefan is even stronger since this summer”, Julien Pinot
“It was a great day, I had very good legs,” Stefan added. “My bike was also perfectly set up, so thanks to my mechanic and my team for supporting me”. Accompanied by Anthony Bouillod, another team coach, on Monday, Stefan Küng anyway won his first international title on the road. “When he finished tenth at the Worlds last year, we were certainly disappointed because we knew he was better than that, but on the other hand, it was his first top 10 in a World championship. His fourth place in the European Championship last season was also his first top 5 in this competition”, explained Julien. “He hadn’t been able to get a medal yet, so it’s great that he finally was able to bring home one, a title moreover! It will stick, and that will leave a mark on his career. He fully deserves it, especially because he’s really involved in preparing this discipline. Since he arrived in our team, we have been objectively measuring all the progress he has made, both in time trials and in road races. His progression is continuous and I feel he is even stronger since this summer than he was at the start of the season. We feel that Stefan made another step forward and we can’t wait to see where that takes him!”
For the time being, however, a trip to Nice is on the agenda. “Tomorrow, I go to the Tour, where I’ll work for Thibaut over three weeks, hoping it ends in a good way on the Champs Elysées,” added Stefan. “He’s now a centrepiece of the group and he is fundamental for Thibaut in the biggest races,” concluded Julien Pinot. “Seeing him coming at the top of his shape and with a title in his pocket certainly gives confidence and a good momentum to everyone”.