In the last stage of the Volta ao Algarve, finishing on well-known Alto do Malhāo, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team went all-in. After a tough fight in the first part of the race, they managed to put Olivier Le Gac, Clément Russo, and the French champion Valentin Madouas in the day’s breakaway. However, this move did not prove to be successful due to the high pace in the peloton, in which Stefan Küng fought admirably among the climbers to keep his place in the overall top-10 (9th).

As is often the case, the Volta ao Algarve was to be decided this Sunday on the Alto do Malhāo. This traditional climb was once again to be covered two times in this 2024 edition, in a final hilly stage, whose scenario seemed quite open. This was anyway the position of the Groupama-FDJ cycling team. “We had decided to be on the move and to put at least one man in the breakaway,” explained Frédéric Guesdon. “We thought the breakaway could possibly go to the end. It was also a way to spend a day in front and maybe be useful for Stefan later on. We also didn’t have much interest in staying all in the peloton and waiting for things to happen. We wanted to be protagonists, and that’s what we did.” Many teams had a similar idea on Sunday, which led to frenetic racing for almost a third of the course. “There was a fight for sixty kilometres, it was really going full gas,” Frédéric said. “We followed and we finally put three men in front, which was great because we were the team with the most riders.” On the other hand, the French champion’s teammates also had to work more than the other. “We knew that Olivier and Clément would struggle in the final climbs, so we decided to pull and make the biggest possible gap on the peloton, but everyone let us work,” added Frédéric. “There wasn’t a great cooperation in the group, which was ultimately too big.”

“Stefan gave his all”, Frédéric Guesdon

Twenty riders found themselves in the lead and got a three-minute gap at best. However, the bunch really initiated the chase entering the last hour, then Wout Van Aert and Ben Healy tried to turn the race upside down, attacking with almost forty kilometres to go. They managed to bridge across to the breakaway before the first climb of Malhāo (2.5 km at 9.8%), where Valentin Madouas was forced to let go. “Even if he finished fifth in Murcia, he still needs a bit more competition to be in top shape”, Frédéric explained. Van Aert, Healy and Leemreize then crossed the summit for the first time, a minute ahead of a peloton already reduced to around fifteen riders, including Stefan Küng. The frantic chase continued until the bottom of the final climb of Malhāo, which the leading trio tackled with only twenty seconds of margin. “The goal for Stefan was clear: follow the best for as long as possible then limit his losses, which he did,” said Frédéric. “When you look closely, there were only a dozen of them left at the foot of the last climb, and he was there. On the other hand, the climb featured high gradients and that did not suit him. That said, he gave his all and that shows that he still has a good level.”

“We are ready for the opening weekend”, Stefan Küng

The Swiss rider managed to keep the wheels until 1500 metres from the finish, then dug deep to cross the line in fifteenth place, forty-two seconds behind stage winner Dani Martinez and overall winner Remco Evenepoel. “I tried to hang on as best I could, but the pace was very high all day,” Stefan commented. “It wasn’t easy on these slopes, but I fought, and I was at least able to secure the top-10 in GC.” Ultimately ninth of the Portuguese event, he only finished twenty-four seconds away from fourth place. “Sometimes you don’t have to look just at the position in the standings,” added Frédéric. “One could say that he did worse than last year (5th), but I think he is as strong or even stronger than last year. There was a really high level, it was close on GC, and the guys in front aren’t nobodies. In the end, the week’s balance is decent. We perhaps hoped for better results on the stages, but we had high goals. It wasn’t exceptional, but we’re still there. We also note that there are no longer any small races. There is a very high level all the time, and you can no longer be at 90% or you’ll be way behind.” Stefan concluded: “The guys did a good work this week, and I believe that we are ready for the opening weekend”.

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