On a street circuit that rode more like a Belgian kermesse, it was the sprinters who wanted to take the win on the last road stage of the Tour de Suisse. While there was a third category climb ridden eight times over the day, a flat finish meant the fast men would be doing everything they could for the victory. A late attack surprised the bunch, with high speeds tearing the peloton to pieces, but in true Sagan style, the UCI World Champion kept his head in the finale and left his rivals in his wake to take his record fifteenth stage victory and his second of this year’s edition of the race.
On the penultimate stage of the Tour de Suisse, and the last road stage of this year’s edition of the race, many of the GC riders – especially those who aren’t time trial specialists – would be hoping to pull back a few seconds in the overall standings. The parcours would make this difficult, however, with the same 12.5km circuit being raced eight times over the stage’s 100km distance and the sprinters looking to take their final opportunity for a stage win, it would be difficult – if not impossible – for anyone to build the kind of advantage that would change the top of the GC. In spite of the climbing and descending of the Herblingen eight times, the short street circuit would promote a fast and furious style of racing, that would only get more frenetic towards the finale.
A quartet made their move almost from the start of the stage. The highest placed GC rider in this break was fifty-five minutes down in the overall race, and so the peloton was happy for this group to go ahead. However, on such a short stage, the outcome was anything but certain, with the fast pace taking its toll on both the break and the sprinters. As the day progressed and the kilometres ticked down, the break was unable to break two minutes, but the fact the peloton was pushing hard and still not making much of an impact on the gap, suggested there was still every chance of a surprise. With the commissaires making the decision to take the GC times at the end of the 7th lap, it meant there would be no fireworks for the overall contest, leaving the sprinters to fight it out among themselves.
The 20km mark came and went, and this was when the chasers really surged into action, reducing the gap from over a minute to just twenty seconds in the space of a few kilometres. On the front, BORA-hansgrohe’s Jay McCarthy was instrumental in this move, riding hard on the front of the peloton, showing massive reserves of strength, and just before 10km remaining, the catch was made. An audacious attack from Sunweb’s Michael Matthews surprised the peloton, which had only just regrouped after pulling in the break, but Marcus Burghardt reacted quickly to jump in and attempt to slow down the attack and reel them back. Having achieved this, it was all back together for the finish – a reduced bunch battling for the win. The UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, was sitting five riders back and staying absolutely calm in spite of the chaos around him. Starting his sprint at just the right moment, the Slovak rider left his rivals trailing just as he had done on stage 5, and added another win to his tally at the race – now standing at fifteen.
After his BORA – hansgrohe teammates had worked so hard to reel in the attacks of the day, Peter had no hesitation in thanking the riders who got him safely to the finish. “It was a very good day for us and once again I have to thank my teammates for their strong effort. We were practically the only ones to control the race today, so they did an excellent job. I’m happy for my second stage win this year – my fifteenth overall. The Tour de Suisse is a race I like, although it’s too early to talk about next year. I hope I can come back.”
Stage after stage, BORA – hansgrohe showed strength in their teamwork, as Sports Director, Jan Valach, noted from the finish. “Today’s excellent victory for Peter Sagan was the result of perfect teamwork by every single rider of the team. The stage started with a very strong pace, and our plan from the morning was to be in control from the outset. We put riders in the front from the first metres with the aim of also being able to assess this very fast and technical circuit. Juraj Sagan was the first to pull hard in the front, followed by Michael Kolar. In the last lap, it was up to Jay McCarthy, Maciej Bodnar and Marcus Burghardt to do the tough job. Jay was brilliant and closed nearly one minute on the breakaway on his own. He had incredible legs. We are happy to see how Peter got off in the final sprint and I think he showed he has very good form.”
Tomorrow, only 28.6km of the Tour de Suisse remain, and it will all come down to ‘The Race of Truth’ – an individual time trial in the streets of Schaffhausen. The smooth, flat roads will give riders an opportunity to build up some high speeds and a strong rhythm, with only a few corners likely to test riders or force them to slow, but a climb later in the route may cause trouble for those who prefer a flatter profile. The race is still not over and there’s every chance of a shakeup in the GC top ten.