Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) put yesterday's heartbreak behind him as he beat David De La Cruz (Astana Qazaqstan) in an uphill sprint to take stage five of the Tour of the Alps.
Second on stage four, the enigmatic French rider bounced back to secure his first victory since his stage win in the 2019 Tour de France. The two riders had gone clear from the day's breakaway group after 66km on a wet and wild day that saw groups all over the road and the peloton, at times, more than 11 minutes behind.
In the battle for the GC, which saw the top-10 separated by just 16 seconds at the start, Romain Bardet (Team DSM) won the day, making it a memorable one for French cycling.
Bardet, who sat two seconds behind race leader Pello Bilbao (Baharin-Victorious) after stage four, distanced his rivals on the steep gradients of the day's final climb, the Stronach, helped in no small part by team-mate Thyman Arensman. He eventually finished 39 seconds ahead of Bilbao to claim his first stage race victory in nine years. The other podium spots were filled by Michael Storer (Groupama-FDJ) in second and Arensman in third, while Bilbao slipped to forth overall.
How it happened
The final stage of this year’s Tour of the Alps was the shortest of the race at just 114.5km. However it featured two categorised climbs, the Bannberg at 5.5km long at an average of 10%, and the Stronach, which measured 3km with an average gradient of 12.4% and came with just 10km of the race remaining.
In between the two KOMs, there was also another ascent of the Bannberg, this time from the easier side with average gradient of 6.6% and an intimidate sprint at Anras.
The riders were greeted at the start by rain showers after four days of glorious Alpine weather. Race leader Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) led Romain Bardet (Team DSM) by two seconds with the entire top-10 only separated by 16 seconds. Today also marked five years since the tragic death of Michele Scarponi. The Italian climber is honoured in the race through the Most Combative Rider jersey.
After 23km of racing, there was a split in the peloton, with a group of 15 riders away.
By 30km, this group had 50 seconds on the peloton, and included stage three winner Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Andrey Amador (Ineos Grenadiers). Best placed in the GC in the group was Abner Gonzalez (Movistar).
Approaching the foot of the Bannberg the break of the day was now firmly established, with a gap of 3-22 over the peloton. Between the leading group and the bunch were two lone riders trying to make the bridge, Logan McLain (Tirol KTM) who was 1-09 behind and Esteban Chaves a further 2-29 back.
Undeterred by yesterday’s heartbreak, or perhaps ignited by that second-place finish, Pinot led the breakaway onto the first of the day’s categorised climbs, the Bannberg.
As this group neared the top of the Bannberg KOM, the peloton was now 3-59 back. The leading group split as they headed to the summit, with five riders moving clear. Kämna, Pinot, David De La Cruz (Astana Qazaqstan), Igor Arrieta and Torstein Traeen now had 10 seconds over the chasers.
Points at the first KOM, which came at 40.2km into the stage, went to Traeen, De La Cruz, Kamna, Pinot and Arrieta in that order. Traeen’s 10 bonus points moved him into the virtual lead in the King of the Mountains classification, ahead of Geoffery Bouchard and Pavel Sivakov.
With 68kms gone, the escapees had continued to build on their lead, moving 5-30 ahead of the peloton, led by Bilbao’s Bahrain-Victorious team. The breakaway of five riders were joined by Amador who bridged over on the descent of the Bannberg, leaving the second group on the road some 30 seconds behind.
Race leader Bilbao had some mechanical issues at the 66km mark but quickly rejoined the peloton, with the rain still coming down.
As the breakaway headed up the uncategorised Assling climb (4km at 10% average), Pinot and De La Cruz attacked, quickly gaining 30 seconds on the other four riders in the group.
The weather looked set for the day, with the riders still in rain capes and the mist descending. With 53km gone, the gap to the peloton now stood at almost 7-30 as Pinot and De La Cruz pushed on, extending their lead over the chasers to 55 seconds.
The points at the Anras intermediate sprint were swept up by the two breakaway riders, with De La Cruz leading Pinot across the line. Amador claimed the final two points. By now the chasers had splintered into five groups due to constant attacks in the grim weather, with the peloton further back at 10-39.
With 38km to the finish Pinot and De La Cruz headed up the lower slopes of the Bannberg, this time from the easier side, sharing turns and working to further establish their lead, which now sat at 49 seconds from the nearest chasers but a whopping 11-21 from the group containing race leader Bilbao.
Amador was dropped by the chasing group of Kämna, Arrieta and Traeen on the Bannberg with 36kms remaining. The trio now sat 1-03 behind the two leaders. An acceleration from Kämna created another split but the German rider was quickly brought back by Arrieta and Traeen.
Pinot and De La Cruz continued to push on as they neared the summit of the Bannberg for the second time. Pinot was as animated as ever with De La Cruz relatively poker-faced despite the cold and the wet. On the descent Pinot seemed happy to follow De La Cruz, allowing a small gap, which seemed prudent given the foul conditions. The gap to the Kämna group was now 1-37.
However Pinot’s caution on the descent soon meant the small gap had grown larger. The two riders cut disparate figures once again, De La Cruz smooth and assured in and out of the corners, with Pinot jerky and hesitant, his disc brakes howling in the wet. The French rider worked hard to bridge back on the lower slopes, using up vital energy with only 25kms of the race remaining.
On the slopes of the Bannberg, the peloton were led by Bahrain-Victorious as they looked after race leader Bilbao, with Team DSM sat in just behind in support of Bardet.
With 16.5km to go Pinot discarded his rain cape with the final climb of the day, the Stronach, rapidly approaching. The Bilbao group, slowed by a puncture to the Spaniard, was now 12-38 behind the two leaders, meaning Pinot was within two minutes of becoming race leader on the road.
Inside 13km Pinot appeared to have mechanical issues as he kicked his rear mech with his foot. He dropped back to the team car where the problem was quickly sorted by a team mechanic while hanging out of the window.
As the pair hit the steep double-digit pitches of the Stronach, the three chasers were now just 44 seconds behind. Perhaps hearing this news in his ear, De La Cruz accelerated away from Pinot, getting a couple of bike lengths, forcing Pinot to work hard to get back onto the Spaniard’s wheel. Trading blows, Pinot then decided to have a dig with 11.3km to go but he couldn't shake De La Cruz.
Out the saddle, with teeth gritted Pinot kicked on again and managed to get several bike lengths on his rival. As the gradient steepened he extended his lead, managing to find a rhythm albeit a slightly ragged one. Even an excited fan with a huge cow bell couldn’t break his focus and he led the race over the top of the day’s final climb. With 6.5km to the line he had a gap of 13 seconds. But Pinot’s descending issues continued, by the time the descent was over De La Cruz was back on Pinot’s wheel.
Back in the GC group Ritchie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers) led them into the lower slopes of the Stronach, hoping to make the tempo hard enough to trouble Bilbao. However, Porte’s team-mate Sivakov was also gapped by his effort, while Bardet sat comfortably on the Australian’s wheel.
With Sivakov and Bilbao seemingly in trouble Bardet kicked on, with team-mate Thymen Arensman in support, with the DSM pair joined by Michael Storer (Groupama-FDJ).
Inside the final kilometre, Pinot and De La Cruz readied themselves for the uphill sprint to the finish. With 150m to go De La Cruz hit the front but was quickly passed by Pinot who finally ended his long wait for another victory.
In the battle for the GC, Bardet built on his lead, eventually crossing the line 39 seconds ahead of Bilbao to secure the overall Tour of the Alps title.
TOUR OF THE ALPS, STAGE FIVE: LIENZ TO LIENZ (114.5KM)
1. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, in 3-09-24
2. David De La Cruz (Esp) Astana Qazaqstan, at 7s
3. Leonard Kämna (Ger) Bora-hansgrohe, at 1-46
4. Igor Arrieta (Esp) Equipo Kern Pharma, at 2-43
5. Torstein Traeen (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling, at 3-26
6. Andrey Amador (CRC) Ineos Grenadiers, at 8-09
7. Michael Storer (Aus) Groupama-FDJ, at 8-36
8. Romain Bardet (Fra) Team DSM, same time
9.Thymen Arensman (Ned) Team DSM, at 8-38
10. Attila Valter (Hun) Groupama-FDJ, at 9-15
FINAL GENERAL CLASSIFICATION
1. Romain Bardet (Fra) Team DSM, in 18-59-29
2. Michael Storer (Aus) Groupama-FDJ, at 14s
3. Thymen Arensman (Ned) Team DSM, at 16s
4. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain-Victorious at 37s
5. Attila Valter (Hun) Groupama-FDJ, at 49s
6. Felix Gall (Aut) AG2R Citroën Team, at 53s
7. Richie Porte (Aus) Ineos Grenadiers, at 1-00
8. Santiago Buitrago (Col) Bahrain-Victorious, at 1-57
9. Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Education-EasyPost, at 2-08
10. Pavel Sivakov (Fra) Ineos Grenadiers, at 2-13
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