Philippe Gilbert returned to winning ways two months after powering to a fourth career success at Amstel Gold Race. This time, the 34-year-old, who was sidelined with an injury for several weeks before making a solid return at the Belgium Tour, sprinted to an emphatic win on stage 2 of the Tour de Suisse, which saw the peloton ride a hard four-lap circuit around Cham.
Nick Dougall (Dimension Data), Antoine Duchesne (Direct Energie), Conor Dunne (Aqua Blue Sport), Lasse Norman Hansen (Aqua Blue Sport) and Nick Van der Lijke (Roompot) were the five men to book a place in an escape which went more than five minutes clear before the sprinters’ teams started a frantic chase with around 80 kilometers to go, bringing the advantage of the quintet down.
The stage wasn’t an incident-free one, with a big crash which occurred in the final 30 kilometers splitting the peloton and allowing the breakaway riders to extend their stay at the front. A few kilometers later, the breakaway was reeled in and it all pointed out to a calm finale, but it wasn’t to be so, as another crash took several riders to the ground, including yellow jersey Rohan Dennis (BMC).
Jan Bakelants (AG2R), Damiano Caruso (BMC) and Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) staged an attack almost immediately, hoping to catch the bunch off-guard, but despite having 30 seconds in hand with 15 kilometers to go, they were brought back by the chasers. Then, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) accelerated, but he too was reabsorbed inside the final five kilometers, and the stage came down to a sprint.
Philippe Gilbert was imperious in the bunch gallop, opening his effort with less than 150 meters to go and holding all his opponents at bay for Quick-Step Floors’ 31st UCI victory of the season. Patrick Bevin (Cannondale-Drapac) and Anthony Roux (FDJ) rounded out the podium of this spectacular stage, at the end of which Philippe became the first Belgian in six years to nab a win at the Tour de Suisse.
“It was very nervous out there, because the peloton let the escapees open up a big gap and then started to chase hard, but the margin still wasn’t coming down. So it was no surprise that we had some crashes in the peloton, even I was involved in one five kilometers from the last climb and had to make a big effort to return in the pack, which brought me to the limit”, said Philippe after his fifth win of the season.
The 34-year-old Belgian, who made his sixth appearance at the Tour de Suisse, took us through the final kilometers of the hectic stage 2: “The plan was to work for Matteo, so I followed the moves and helped him move to the front before the finish, but we lost each other because of some riders who pushed us. Fortunately, our team came on top today and I couldn’t be happier, because this race is one of the most prestigious in the world and to take a stage here is really great. This victory gives us an even bigger motivation for next week, when we hope to notch other nice results.”