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One year after taking three stage wins in the Tour de Romandie, Albasini won a 40-rider sprint in the first road stage of the 2015 edition of the race to take both the stage victory and the leader’s jersey

Photo: Orica GreenEdge

JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE

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NEWS

MICHAEL ALBASINI

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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TOUR DE ROMANDIE

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29.04.2015 @ 18:01 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After his three stage wins in 2014, Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) again proved that he is perfectly suited to the Tour de Romandie when he won the first road stage of the 2015 edition of the race. Having survived the tough final climb, he was part of the 40-rider group that sprinted for the win and he easily held off Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) and Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) to take both the stage victory and the yellow leader’s jersey.

 

With his good climbing skills and fast sprint, Michael Albasini is tailor-made for the Tour de Romandie. At the same time, he is known as one of the best stage hunters in the world as he has won stages in almost every one-week stage race on the WorldTour calendar.

 

Hence, it was somewhat a surprise that the strong Swiss was unable to win a stage in his home race for several years until he finally got things right in 2014. When he had finally got the ball rolling, however, he was completely unstoppable and he ended up winning three out of four road stages in last year’s edition of the race.

 

Having shown great condition with a podium spot in Fleche Wallonne, Albasini went into this year’s race as a favourite for several stages and his best chance seemed to come in the hilly opening road stage. The Swiss didn’t disappoint his home fans as he turned out to be the fastest in the 40-rider group that sprinted for the win.

 

Albasini had to dig deep on the final category 2 climb that summited just 17.2km from the finish while some of the GC riders attacked near the top and Astana set a brutal pace. When Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) led Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Darwin Atapuma (BMC), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) over the top, he was still there and ready to sprint.

 

Astana took control on the descent where Rein Taaramae, Michele Scarponi and Nibali lined themselves out as they sped down the big road. At this point, Scarponi made a wily move by slowing down when the road narrowed and this allowed his teammate Taaramae to get a gap.

 

The strong Estonian managed to get an advantage of 10 seconds before the peloton reacted when Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) attacked together with Costa and Eros Capecchi (Movistar). However, they failed to get clear and so Martin started to chase as his fast teammate Julian Alaphilippe was still in the roup.

 

Martin worked very hard and even got some help from Capecchi but the gap didn’t really come down. With 5km to go, it was still 8 seconds and this forced GC leader Rigoberto Uran to assist in the chase work.

 

Meanwhile, the sprinters were fighting hard for position behind the Etixx riders who also got a bit of help from Egor Silin (Katusha). With 2.8km to go, they had nearly caught Taaramae and this opened the door for Pierre Rolland (Europcar) to attack. He was joined by Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale) and Silin but Martin was quick to shut it down as they flew past Taaramae.

 

Martin was now riding on the front and while the fight for position was ongoing, he set the pace until 600m remained. Here Uran did the lead-out for Alaphilippe but the Etixx-QuickStep pair were passed by Ramunas Navarduaskas and Nathan Haas from Cannondale.

 

Albasini had positioned himself on Alaphilippe’s wheel but was quick to move into third position behind the Cannondale pair while Alaphilippe drifted back to fifth position. When Haas launched his sprint, Albasini easily passed him and he held off Jarlinson Pantano and Alaphilippe to take the win.

 

Race leader Geraint Thomas (Sky) had a puncture at the bottom of the final climb and never made it back to the peloton. However, he would have lost the jersey in any case as Albasini had started the stage equal on time with the Welshman after the near-miss in the team time trial.

 

Due to bonus seconds, he now leads his teammates Ivan Santaromita and Simon Yates and Chris Froome (Sky) by 10 seconds as they go into the third stage. Despite the inclusion of two category 3 and two category 2 climbs in the final half, the stage is likely to be decided in a sprint from a bigger group than the one that was left in today’s stage.

 

A hilly stage

After the opening team time trial, it was straight into the mountains on the second stage of the Tour de Romandie. The course brought the riders over 168.1km from Apples to Saint-Imier and was a very hilly affair. After a flat first part, the riders would tackle a tough category 2 climb which was followed by two category 3 ascents. In the finale, they would go up the category 2 Col de la Vue des Alpes (8km, 6.7%, max. 9%) whose summit was located just 17.2km from the finish. From there, it was a fast descent and 5 flat kilometres to the finish in Saint-Imier.

 

There were two non-starters when the riders gathered in Apples under a cloudy and dry sky for the start of the second stage. Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r) had already fallen ill yesterday and the in-form climber was unable to continue the race while Michal Golas who was brought in as a late replacement for the injured Gianluca Brambilla, also failed to make it to the sign-in.

 

Two riders get clear

Surprisingly, there was no big fight to get into the early break and it didn’t take long for Jonathan Fumeaux (IAM) and Maxim Belkov (Katusha) to get clear. Already after 4km of racing, they had an advantage of 1.50 and 5km later they were already 3.30 ahead.

 

Team Sky took control of the peloton and allowed the gap to continue its steady rise. At the 28km mark it was 4.50 and as they hit the bottom of the first climb, it went out to 5.50.

 

The gap grows

Belkov led Fumeaux over the top while Ian Stannard, Danny Pate (both Sky) and Stefan Küng (BMC) were first from the peloton. Sky were still not chasing hard and after 68km of racing, the gap was 6.50.

 

The British team finally upped the pace and at the 80km mark they had reduced their deficit to 5.50. At this point, they hit the second climb and the Brits went much faster up the ascent than the escapees. After 95km of racing, the gap had been reduced to 4.35.

 

Kennaugh takes over

Fumeaux led Belkov across the line in the first intermediate sprint while Stannard was first from the peloton. Stannard and Pate were keeping the gap stable at around 3.40 until the fight for position started as they approached the penultimate climb with 50km to go.

 

Pate and Stannard swing off on the lower slopes when the faster pace had brought the gap down to 2.50 and it was Peter Kennaugh who took over. Meanwhile, riders started to get dropped and the climbers started to position themselves near the front.

 

Puncture for Froome

Belkov set the pace all the way up the climb and he led Fumeaux over the top. Kennaugh was first from the peloton 1.30 later before his teammate Luke Rowe who had nearly been dropped on the climb took over.

 

Rowe kept the gap stable at around 1.30 while Fumeaux won the final intermediate sprint ahead of Belkov and the Brit. At this point, Froome suffered a very untimely puncture which prompted Sky to slow down and Nicolas Roche to drop back to help his captain.

 

Martin is dropped

Froome managed to rejoin the group just before a big crash brought down Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEDGE), Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida), Jesper Hansen (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Darwin Atapuma (BMC). Meanwhile, BMC had hit the front with Matthieu Ladagnous and Benoit Vaurenard before Rowe again took over.

 

With 25km to go, the gap was down to just 35 seconds and it was now Rory Sutherland riding on the front for Movistar. As they hit the climb, Kennaugh again took over and riders started to get dropped, with Dan Martin (Cannondale) being among the early victims.

 

Puncture for Thomas

At this point, Thomas had bad luck to suffer a puncture and even though Kennaugh waited for him, he would never make it back. At the same time, Jan Bakelants hit the front for Ag2r.

 

The attacking started when Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha) took off and he was joined by Winner Anacona (Movistar), Riccardo Zoidl (Trek), Tsgaby Grmay (Lampre-Merida), Maxime Monfort (Lotto Soudal) and Michele Scarponi (Astana). Later Atapuma, Ben Gastauer (Ag2r), Ivan Santaromita (Orica), Steve Morabito (FDJ) and Roche also got across and so Etixx-QuickStep started to chase.

 

More attacks

The work paid off and so only Jeandesboz was able to stay away. Moments later, Anacona, Bart De Clercq (Lotto Soudal) and Egor Silin (Katusha) took off in pursuit while Roche started to chase in the peloton.

 

Santaromita joined the chasers who bridged across to the lone leader but Roche managed to bring the group back with 18km to go. Astana now took over with Scarponi before Anacona took a turn.

 

Scarponi took one final massive turn before Romain Bardet launched an attack that was shut down by Nibali. As they approached the summit, Majka and Quintana gave it a go but as they led the peloton over the top, Nibali had already closed it down, setting the scene for the finale.

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