“I hid as much as possible in the front group and when I saw the one kilometre to the summit of the last king of the mountains, I knew I was going to be in with a chance, but I was hanging on.”
That, in a nutshell, was how Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) won stage two of the Tour of Romandie in the picturesque town of Saint-Imier.
After Team Sky and Peter Kennaugh in particular had brought back the day’s (two man) break, a flurry of attacks and accelerations had thinned out the bunch to the point that there were only 49 riders left in the front in contention for a stage win. It was precisely the sort of situation in which Albasini thrives.
“I was too near the front of the bunch inside the final couple of kilometers and I got a bit boxed in, but I found a way through. It was a long, long sprint, but I got it,” explained Albasini later. “I’m not sure, looking back, that winning three stages here last year was such a good idea,” he laughed, “now everyone expects me to do the same again.”
Albasini not only took the stage, he took over the race lead after Geraint Thomas, the overnight leader, struggled and ultimately failed, to get back to the peloton after a puncture on the final tough second category climb. The race was well and truly on, inside the final 25km and the team (or at least directeur sportif Nico Portal) was philosophical.
“G (Geraint) was just coming back after two pretty easy weeks,” said Portal, “so I’m not sure how his form is and the pace was tough on that climb. We’re here for Chris (Froome) though, it’s all for him.”
Whatever, Albasini is the new leader, though not an entirely happy one. “I came out of dope control and heard that my mate Svein Tuft had a bad crash and has gone to hospital, that really took the shine off the result. The fact is that after the effort Svein put in yesterday in the team time trial, I wouldn’t be in the race lead now.”
Albasini knows that his tenure of the yellow jersey will be relatively short too. “We’ve got Simon Yates for the general classification, he was going well in the Pays Basque and in the Ardennes, so we’ll see how he goes here.”
Thursday’s third stage, 172.5km from Moutier to Porrentruy features four climbs, two of them rated second category with the final third cat climb 25km from the line. Under normal circumstances, you’d bet on Albasini being somewhere near the front again. A Swiss rider in a strong team wearing the yellow jersey?