Stefan Küng added to his 2015 Tour de Romandie stage victory as he battled the weather conditions in the breakaway, before proving he was the strongest on the day in a head to head battle for the win.
Bad weather saw the stage 2 start line relocated to Aigle with riders avoiding the originally planned descent from Champéry and covering 136km of the original 160.7km course.
With the race eventually underway, attacks quickly began to fly off the front of the peloton with Stefan Küng part of the successful move which saw four riders go clear after only 4km of racing.
The gap between the breakaway and the peloton continued to rise as they raced through the valley before it settled at around 5’40” after the first of three categorized climbs.
As the road continued to roll and a mix of snow and rain began to fall, the advantage of Küng’s group remained steady. As they hit the the slopes of the final categorized climb to Le Châtelard, the peloton had picked up the pace behind and the gap started to fall.
However, the four leading riders continued to work well together and as they crossed the finish line for the final 25km, they were still 3’00” ahead of the main bunch.
As the breakaway entered the closing kilometers, Küng and Andrei Grivko (Astana Pro Team) were pushing hard at the front of the group and with four kilometers to go, they were the last riders standing from the original breakaway.
Inside the final kilometer it was Küng who led the way with Grivko sitting firmly in his wheel. Küng led Grivko through the final left hand turn with 300m to go and started his sprint, holding on until the line and raising his hands in triumph.
Behind them, the peloton was approaching quickly with Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen both finishing safely in the bunch.
The Winner’s Interview with Stefan Küng
Congratulations, Stefan. Can you describe how you are feeling after today’s victory?
“It’s amazing. I am really happy. We talked about the possibility of today being a good day for the breakaway or a good day to try and make a move. The team then gave me the freedom to go for it. If you have this opportunity and you know the roads, I had the confidence in my condition and the weather was bad so it was the perfect day for me to try and do something.”
When was it clear that this breakaway was going to make it to the finish?
“At one point when the peloton really started to chase before the last categorized climb of the day, the gap came down pretty fast. At this point I was a little bit scared as not everyone was fully contributing so then I made a really good tempo on the climb and we were able to increase the gap.”
“From then on it was pretty fast and with a little bit of a tailwind over the last 10km. In my mind, I knew that Grivko was going to be the strongest in the end and I was confident in my sprint so I knew that I didn’t need to so something at that point. In the end, it came down to a sprint and I am really happy to take this win.”
Where did you get this confidence for the sprint?
“It’s a little bit funny. During the Classics we always play with each other and do sprints and I also did a few of them against Greg Van Avermaet and it always a case of me winning one and then he would win one. If you are able to sprint as good as Greg, that gave me the confidence that after a hard day I was sure he (Grivko) wasn’t going to beat me today.”
The weather conditions were tough today. How did you find it?
“It was so cold. In the beginning it was okay and then it started to rain before we hit the snow at the top of the last climb. It was like Winter Wonderland but we had to race our bikes. You can change gloves and clothes and so on but it is also hard to stay hydrated and to stay fuelled up on a day like today. After the finish it took me over half an hour to warm up, so I was actually glad I was in the breakaway. I had to ride and keep my body warm.”
Two years ago in the same area you won a stage of Tour de Romandie as a neo-pro. What is the difference between these two victories?
“A lot things have happened and not good things. I had two really hard crashes with a long rehabilitation and then illness. I was always a little up and down and I was struggling to show what I can do. I knew I could do but I just couldn’t finish it off so it is a big relief for me to get this victory. I work hard all the time. I am a really ambitious person and if you are longing for success and always running behind, you lose patience and confidence. With this victory it is really nice to get a lot of this confidence back.”
And looking ahead to the rest of the race.
“I am always happy to help and I will continue to do this. I think it is going to be interesting. We will be giving it all for our leaders and I think they are ready. When you look at them, how they move in the bunch and how they ride, you can see it. First priority for me now is to help the GC guys and then I would love to give it a go on the final TT.
Quotes from the Finish Line
“It was incredible to see Stefan go up the road like that and win just as he did two years ago. It was a fantastic day for the team. It was absolutely freezing today and while it wasn’t a difficult stage on paper, the weather conditions made it so hard. It was brutal.”
“It was a great day. We planned, we believed, we tried, we had nothing to lose. Stefan showed great condition yesterday and we knew that today would be hard, even harder than expected because of the snow and the rain. It was unbelievably difficult for the guys. Stefan had three strong riders with him in the breakaway, and they did a great ride. Stefan is used to the cold and rain and he is on home soil in Switzerland, so he was motivated and he was amazing. I’m really happy for Stefan because he has been chasing a victory like this since the beginning of the year. Finally, at home he has the victory. For sure, this is a boost for the team this week. Finally, we want to give this victory to our owner Andy Rihs. We are in Andy’s home country and I would like to dedicate this victory to him.”
Australian results: Stage 2 Tour de Normandie 27th April
1 Stefan Küng (Swi) BMC Racing Team 3:33:15
2 Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team
3 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida 0:00:20
4 Alexander Edmondson (Aus) Orica-Scott 0-:00:20
25 Jack Haig (Aus) Orica-Scott
34 Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team
67 Damien Howson (Aus) Orica-Scott
83 Brendan Canty (Aus) Cannondale-Drapac
107 Rob Power (Aus) Orica-Scott
112 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:01:00
120 Simon Clarke (Aus) Cannondale-Drapac 0:20:00
144 William Clarke (Aus) Cannondale-Drapac