Felix Gall (AG2R Citroën) climbed to a first-ever win on the WorldTour on stage four of the Tour de Suisse in Leukerbad and took over the overall race lead.
On the long climb to the finish, the Austrian simply had too much for the rest of his rivals and managed to maintain enough of a gap to the chasers including Romain Bardet (DSM), Wilco Kelderman (Jumbo-Visma) and Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) to hold on for the victory.
As the stage neared its finale, Bardet launched a series of attacks as he looked to bridge up to the AG2R rider. However, the Frenchman was unable to force enough of a gap to the rest of the overall race favourites.
“I’m still a little bit overwhelmed with the situation, I don’t really know what to think,” Gall said afterwards. “It’s my first professional victory here at the Tour de Suisse and now I also have the leader's jersey.
"Yesterday I felt super good, I’m in the shape of my life, so we said this morning that if I felt the same as yesterday on the last climb, I have to give it a try.”
The Austrian went from distance as he made his bid for victory, and attacked on the steepest section of the long final climb to Dorben with 22 kilometres still to race. Gall powered past the remnants of the day’s breakaway, leaving nothing to chance after narrowly missing out to Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo) on stage three.
“I didn’t think it would really be possible as it was still a long way to the finish line,” Gall added. “But I had to give it a try. If I have the best legs of my life, I’m not going to wait in the bunch and look at the others.”
Evenepoel snatched second place ahead of Skjelmose to put him third overall, 16 seconds back from Gall ahead of another mountain test on stage five. Gall explained that with several tough days to come in the high mountains, as well as yet another time trial, overall victory would be a tall order.
“I hope I can enjoy all of this,” he said. “We’ll see what’s possible tomorrow. It’s a little bit of a different stage with longer climbs and also at altitude. We will see how it suits me, it’s a little bit of a new experience for me as it's the first time I’m able to race at this level. Then also the TT is not exactly [one of] my strengths at the moment.
“If I want to get a nice result in the GC, I also think I have to do a good race tomorrow and maybe again try to gain some time. For now I’m just happy with the win today.”
Meanwhile Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) had a disappointing day and lost over a minute to the rest of the favourites. The Spaniard came into the day third overall, but dropped to sixth after losing time.
The Swiss stage race will continue tomorrow with a 211 kilometre test - featuring nearly 5,000 metres of elevation - between Fiesch and La Punt.
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