Thomas overcomes freak crash to take victory
Fairly or unfairly, Geraint Thomas has a reputation for crashing, often in bizarre ways, and the way he came a cropper in a two-man sprint with Michael Woods on stage four, when on the verge of taking the overall lead and perhaps even a stage victory, will not have helped him shed that reputation.
Thomas dismissed the incident with his customary good humour, describing himself as feeling “like a right whopper”, and ultimately it didn’t matter as the Welshman comfortably ousted Woods from the top spot to claim overall victory, his first since the 2018 Tour de France.
That’s very good for Thomas as he builds his form towards the aim of reclaiming that Tour title this July, and he’s emerging as Ineos Grenadiers’ probable leader for that race.
Ineos Grenadiers will also be pleased with their performance as a team. Richie Porte managed to accompany Thomas for most of the key mountain top finish on stage four, and time trialed well in the final stage to catapult himself up to second overall. And Rohan Dennis won the prologue with a blistering ride (with Thomas and Porte finishing second and third to seal a clean sweep), and he might have held onto the overall lead for longer were it not for a crash on stage three.
It wasn’t quite the untouchable, all-conquering performance at Volta a Catalunya to win all three spots on the podium, and they did not quite control the queen stage as well as they might have hoped, but they were nevertheless easily the best team at the race, and look well on track for the Tour in a couple of months’ time.
Woods a nearly man again
Bringing the excellent form he’d shown at the Ardennes Classics, Michael Woods (Israel StartUp Nation) was one of the most impressive riders this week in Romandie, winning the queen stage after climbing away from everyone bar Geraint Thomas on the final climb.
However, much like at the Ardennes Classics, where fourth at Flèche Wallonne and fifth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège didn’t quite reflect how strong he looked, the Canadian couldn’t quite follow through and seal overall victory, losing the yellow jersey on the final stage following a disappointing time trial, slipping to fifth overall.
For Woods, this was a familiar story of great promise ending in a near miss. He also lost the overall lead at last year’s Tirreno-Adriatico, and has a palmarès full of high finishes at the very biggest Classics (including bronze at the 2018 Worlds and a runner-up finish at Liège-Bastogne-Liège that year), but still no wins in a WorldTour one-day race.
On the plus side, his ride up Thyon 2000 to claim victory on stage four was arguably the best of his career, and, despite being 34, he’s showing some of the best form of his late-blooming career. If he keeps riding like this, the big wins will come.
Soler proves a point with stage win and high finish
Marc Soler’s celebration upon winning stage three was that of a man who felt he had a point to prove. Upon crossing the finish line, having successfully broken away from the group of favourites on the final climb of the stage, the Spaniard put a finger to his lips.
It was a gesture presumably directed towards critics of his recent performances, which up until now had been underwhelming. Although he did well in his first appearance of 2021 to finish eleventh overall at a tough Tirreno-Adriatico, he struggled at Volta a Catalunya, and was unable to offer leader Alejandro Valverde much help.
Such performances had reinforced the notion that Soler (who turned 27 last November) hasn’t quite developed into the star we expected him to be since winning the Tour de l’Avenir in 2015 and Paris-Nice in 2018. Since then he has made more headlines for in-race fall-outs with the Movistar management and apparent disharmony behind the scenes than for his results.
But his stage win this week was a reminder of the talent he has, as well as another example of the refreshing eagerness to attack that has characterised his performances even when things aren’t going well for him.
Despite battling hard on the mountain top finish following his stage win, Soler was unable to hold onto the yellow jersey, settling instead for a fourth-place finish on GC. But the signs are that he’s going well ahead of the Giro d’Italia, where he’ll enjoy a rare chance to lead Movistar at a Grand Tour. He’ll be eager to prove yet another point.
Sagan and Colbrelli win a stage each despite tough parcours for sprinters
Without a single purely flat stage, the sprinters were made to work for their success this week, but both Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious) dug in deep over the climbs to claim a stage win each.
Both sprinters were among those still present after half the peloton had been distanced during a hilly opening road stage, with Sagan edging Colbrelli in the sprint. The following stage was even more selective, and Sagan was dropped early on the final climb of the day, but Colbrelli again made the cut, and this time won the sprint from a leading group that had been reduced to just 36 riders.
Both also impressed on stage three to make the selection, but this time a successful Marc Soler attack meant they were only sprinting for a second-place finish, which was, in any case, won by Magnus Cort (EF Education-Nippo).
For Sagan, his rides are an encouraging sign that he’s set for a good Giro d’Italia. The parcours for that race look very difficult this year, with many stages earmarked for the sprinters featuring potentially tricky climbs, so his climbing form may keep him in contention on days where other sprinters are dropped.
Colbrelli won’t be riding the Giro (he’s having some downtime having ridden a full Classics program this spring), so will be delighted with his success as an end in itself. He has been a dependable and versatile rider for many years now but does not win as much as you might expect — his stage win this week was his first since last August, and his first at WorldTour level since the 2018 Tour de Suisse.
Ganna loses time trial supremacy
When Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) lost to Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) at the Tirreno-Adriatico time trial in March, it looked like it would be a mere blip. After all, the Italian had previously been on a stunning eight-race winning streak in time trials stretching all the way back to August 2020, and looked practically untouchable in the discipline.
However, Ganna lost not one but two time trials at the Tour de Romandie, and was considerably off the pace in both. First in the prologue, three of his Ineos Grenadiers team-mates finished ahead of him to claim the podium spots while he languished behind in ninth; and on the final, longer time trial, he fared worse still, this time only just making the top ten.
His sudden fallibility will come as a welcome relief to his rivals, who have spent almost a year in his shadow. Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) capitalised on the final stage, at last claiming his first win of the season having already finished runner-up in two WorldTour time trials, while 22-year-old Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo) continues to look like the next big thing in time trialing with a second-place finish behind Cavagna.
Ineos Grenadiers did at least manage to keep success in-house in the prologue, with Rohan Dennis taking the win. Following his similarly crushing win at Volta a Catalunya earlier this season, and as a former two-time World champion, Dennis looks like he will be the man most capable of claiming Ganna’s crown at the Worlds later this year.