Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) secured overall victory at the Tour de Suisse after a strong time-trial performance as Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team) narrowly won stage eight in Vaduz.
The 36-year-old finished just three seconds behind the Belgian on the day, and more than a minute quicker than Sergio Higuita (BORA-hansgrohe) to overtake him in the overall standings.
Thomas, who is hitting form at the pefect time ahead of the Tour de France, also becomes the first-ever British rider to win the Tour de Suisse - the ninth stage-race victory of his career.
Higuita held on to second place in the GC by four seconds, ahead of Jakob Fuglsang (Israel-Premier Tech) who rounded out the podium.
Evenepoel, despite a tough week for the 23-year-old, showed that his time-trial form had not disappeared, recording a time of 28-26 over the 25.6km course.
Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), the home favourite, rounded out the podium on the stage, with a time of 28-37, eight seconds behind Thomas.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The final stage of the Tour de Suisse was decided, as is the norm for the eight-day race, with a race of truth.
At 25.6km, the second-longest time-trial on the WorldTour so far this year, and with just 133m of climbing, the parcour was one for the pure time-trial specialists.
The race against the clock started and finished in the capital of Liechtenstein, running alongside the Rhine river, the natural border with the race’s home country for part of the route.
After a week of the peloton being ravaged by coronavirus, there was uncertainty over how many riders would actually take to the start ramp in Vaduz.
Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies), who had seen a return to form earlier in the race after winning stage three, was one rider who did not.
The Slovakian rider recorded his third positive test for coronavirus in the space of 18 months – terrible timing ahead of the Tour de France.
Of the riders that did start, Chad Haga (Human Powered Health) was the first of the early men to finish in a time below 30 minutes. The American recorded a time of 29-51, with an average speed of 51.46km/h.
Haga’s time in the hot seat wouldn’t last too long though, as Ineos Grenadiers’ Dylan Van Baarle put 20 seconds into the American’s time, crossing the line with a time of 29-31.
The Dutchman held top spot for a while, although Nikias Arndt (Team DSM) was 11 seconds ahead of him at the halfway point. Yet the German paid for his efforts on the run-in to home, eventually crossing the line with a time of 29-58 – nearly half a minute behind Van Baarle.
Ilan Van Wilder (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team) looked to be putting in a strong display, reaching the intermediate split just a second down on Van Baarle, however the Belgian crashed after misjudging a roundabout inside the flamme rouge.
Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange-Jayco), although not troubling the podium, surprised many with an impressive performance over the 25.6km route, recording a time of 29-54.
As the GC contenders started the roll off the start ramp, Van Baarle’s early time look under threat.
Despite Quick-Step’s woes with Van Wilder’s crash, there was positive news when Remco Evenepoel reached the intermediate split. The 22-year-old arrived there 27 seconds ahead of Arndt who had the next best time at that point.
Stefan Küng then narrowly edged Evenepoel at the halfway checkpoint by almost two seconds.
When Evenepoel came to the line in Vaduz he was a minute and four seconds faster than Van Baarle. Averaging a speed of 54.02km/h, it looked like a tall order for anyone to beat the young Belgian.
Despite being quicker to begin with, Küng couldn’t replicate the Quick-Step rider's pace throughout, as he eventually finished 11 seconds off top spot.
Meanwhile in the battle for the yellow jersey, Thomas was proving why he was hotly tipped to take the win.
The Welshman – riding a prototype Pinarello bike that we could well see him on at the Grand Départ in Copenhagen in less than a fortnight’s time - came to the intermediate split just seven seconds off the leading time.
Higuita, as expected, failed to match Thomas’ effort, already more than half a minute behind at the time-check. By this point, eyes were turning to see whether the Welshman could threaten Evenepoel’s blistering display.
Thomas was clearly riding well but the clock wasn’t in his favour as he raced towards the line - the Ineos Grenadiers rider ultimately finishing three seconds down on the Belgian, with a time of 28-29.
Higuita, the last man across the line, finished 11th on the stage, setting a time of 29-43 that meant he narrowly held on to second place in the overall standings.
It is Thomas' first overall stage-race win for more than a year, the last being the Tour of Romandie in May 2021.
With the Tour de France less than a fortnight away, the Welshman may have put himself back into contention for a starring role in the British team's eight-man squad.
TOUR DE SUISSE, STAGE EIGHT: VADUZ - VADUZ (25.6KM)
1. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team, in 28-26
2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 3 seconds
3. Stefan Küng (Swi) Groupama-FDJ, at 11s
4. Dani Martínez (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 28s
5. Bob Jungels (Lux) AG2R Citroën Team, at 33s
6. Max Schachmann (Ger) BORA-hansgrohe, at 39s
7. Felix Großschartner (Aut) BORA-hansgrohe, at 55s
8. Neilson Powless (USA) EF Education-EasyPost, at 59s
9. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Israel-Premier Tech, at 1-02
10. Dylan Van Baarle (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers, at 1-05
FINAL GENERAL CLASSIFICATION
1. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, in 33-07-09
2. Sergio Higuita (Col) BORA-hansgrohe, at 1-12
3. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Israel-Premier Tech, at 1-16
4. Neilson Powless (USA) EF Education-EasyPost, at 2-10
5. Stefan Küng (Swi) Groupama-FDJ, at 2-25
6. Bob Jungels (Lux) AG2R Citroën Team, at 2-59
7. Felix Großschartner (Aut) BORA-hansgrohe, at 3-37
8. Dani Martínez (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 3-39
9. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, at 3-42
10. Max Schachmann (Ger) BORA-hansgrohe, at 3-45
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