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An isolated Albasini stays calm in a hectic finale of the first stage of the Tour de Romandie and times his sprint perfectly to pass a fading Voeckler just metres from the line

Photo: Orica GreenEdge

JESUS HERRADA

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MICHAEL ALBASINI

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MICHAL KWIATKOWSKI

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RAMUNAS NAVARDAUSKAS

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SOUDAL - QUICK STEP

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TEAM JAYCO ALULA (FORKERT)

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TOUR DE ROMANDIE

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30.04.2014 @ 18:13 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) became the first Swiss for several years to win a stage in the Tour de Romandie when the local hero timed his sprint perfectly at the end of the shortened first stage of the race. Having survived the late climb and the technical descent, he was one of only a select few fast finishers in the group that arrived at the finish and he benefited from hard work from the Garmin team that saw late attacker Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) be caught just metres from the line. Michal Kiwatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) defended his overall led.

 

For several years, a local rider has not been able to win a stage in the Tour de Romandie which is one of two big stage races in Switzerland but today the drought was broken when Michael Albasini took a very convincing win in the first stage of the 2014 edition of the race. The Orica-GreenEDGE rider who is known as an excellent stage hunter, made used of his fast finish to take the victory when a small 30-40 rider group arrived at the line to battle it out in the sprint.

 

With very few domestique resources left in the group, however, it seemed that the fast finishers would be denied the chance to battle it out for the win when Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) launched a dangerous move under the flamme rouge. Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Garmin-Sharp had already used a lot of energy to close down a big attack from Vincenzo Nibali on the descent and so he quickly got a big gap.

 

However, Ramunas Navarduaskas had survived the late climb and the technical descent and he was intent on using his fast sprint to repeat last year's win in the race and so his teammate Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp) sacrificed himself completely in the final 500m. With 100m to go, he closed the final small gap to Voeckler and this opened the door for Albasini who was perfectly positioned near the front.

 

The Swiss launched a perfectly timed sprint despite apparently being isolated in the finale and he easily opened up a big gap to all his rivals. He had plenty of time to celebrate another stage win in a big WorldTour race while Jesus Herrada (Movistar) was a distant second ahead of Navardauskas.

 

The stage had been far shorter than planned as bad weather had forced the organizers to take out the big Simplonpass and so the riders only did 88km of the original 200km. This was expected to open the door for more fast finishers but in the end none of the pure sprinters survived the difficult finale.

 

Michal Kwiatkowski stayed safe in the bunch all day but faced a threat to his lead when Nibali had build up a 25-second gap. However, strong teamwork by Thomas De Gendt and Rigoberto Uran neutralized the move and so he defended his overall lead while Albasini moves into second, 5 seconds behind the Pole.

 

He will try to defend his lead for another day when he heads out on tomorrow's second stage from Sion to Montreux. With just two smaller category 3 climbs along the way, it is the easiest of the entire race and so a sprint finish is expected.

 

A shortened stage

After the opening prologue, the riders were scheduled to go up the big Simplonpass on their 200km route from Ascona to Sion but with snow falling all day, the organizers decided to transport them up and down the mountain in busses. Hence, the riders only did a shortened 88km ride from Bridgerbad to Sion but the stage still included a big category 2 climb whose top was located just 18km from the finish. From there it was a technical descent and 9 flat kilometres to the finish.

 

By the time the riders finally took off from Bridgerbad, it was actually a rather nice day for a bike race. The roads were completely dry and the riders also escaped the forecasted cold .

 

The break takes off

On paper, the lumpy terrain could offer some attacking riding but when the 151 riders headed out for their ride, they were in no mood to animate the racing. In fact, Reto Hollenstein (IAM), Boris Vallee (Lotto Belisol) and Silvan Dillier (BMC) took off almost straight from the gun and at the 4km mark, they were already 40 seconds ahead.

 

The peloton allowed it to grow to 3 minutes but were in no mood to give them too much leeway in such a short stage. Omega Pharma-Quick Step assumed their position on the front of the peloton, with Julien Vermote and Serge Pauwels keeping the gap stable between the 2- and 3-minute marks for a long time.

 

The gap comes down

At the 40km mark, the duo had upped the pace a bit and had brought the advantage down to just 2.10. Up ahead, Vallee was the only rider interested in the intermediate sprint and was allowed to take maximum points ahead of Hollenstein and Dillier.

 

The riders were now approaching the first passage of the finish line and the start of the final climb and this prompted Sky to hit the front. Chris Sutton led the bunch across the line before swinging off to allow Luke Rowe to take over while behind the battle for position had really intensified.

 

Sky in control

Sky continued to set the pace on the lower slopes of the climb, with Xabier Zandio and later Nathan Earle gradually bringing down the gap. Meanwhile, riders were starting to drop off, with Danny Van Poppel (Trek) and Pablo Lastras (Movistar) being some of the first riders to let the group gow.

 

With 27km to go, the gap was down to just 30 seconds. At this point, Lampre-Merida decided that they wanted to make the race tougher to set up Rui Costa for the win and so Winner Anacona and Rafael Valls set a furious pace. In a matter of seconds, the escape was brought back while behind Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) was one of many riders to get dropped.

 

Lopez rides hard

Tejay van Garderen (BMC) was another victim as he still hadn't recovered from yesterday's crash while IAM took over the pace-setting on a small descent. As soon as the road ramped upwards again, David Lopez hit the front for Sky and he unintentionally drew clear a small group with the likes of Marcel Wyss, Rohan Dennis, Riccardo Zoidl, Tanel Kangert, Thibaut Pinot, Herrada, and Edward Beltran.

 

Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) brought it back together and instead Lopez continued his hard riding. Behind sprinter Juan Jose Lobato, Davide Appollonio and Luka Mezgec were now getting dropped.

 

Pinot joins Tschopp

Johann Tschopp (IAM) launched an attack and got an immediate gap while Lopez continued to lead set the pace. With 1km to the top, Pinot took off and he quickly joined Tschopp.

 

Tschopp beat Pinot in the sprint for the KOM points to take the mountains jersey but at the top, the gap was less than 10 seconds. On the upper part of the descent, they were caught as Tinkoff-Saxo and Europcar set the pace.

 

Nibali makes his move

Gaps started to open up on the technical descent while Nibali used the opportunity to take off. At the bottom, he had a 30-second gap over Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) who were a little ahead of the 30-40 rider group that had survived the many splits on the downhill section.

 

Talansky refused to cooperate and so the chasing duo was quickly caught. Voeckler made a short-lived move but it was doomed for failure as Ag2r were now chasing hard with Mikael Cherel and Alexis Vuillermoz.

 

Martin with a smart move

That dup quickly disappeared to leave it to Thomas De Gendt and Rigoberto Uran to set the pace. They got some assistance from Garmin-Sharp's Tom Danielson and the trio gradually closed the gap to Nibali.

 

4km from the finish, he was still 12 seconds ahead but inside the final 2km, it was clear that he wouldn't make it. Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) saw an opportunity to attack and Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp) was straight on his wheel.

 

Voeckler with a brave attack

The duo bridged to Nibali but as Martin got no help, they were brought back by the Belkin team. Instead, Martin went straight to the front to work for Kwiatkowski.

 

Under the flamme rouge, Voeckler took off and he got a solid gap through the final few corners. Astana and Lampre-Merida led the chase but inside the final 500m, it seemed that Voeckler had a chance to stay away.

 

Dennis took a massive turn on the front and that made all the difference. He closed the gap to Voeckler with 100m to go and that was when Albasini launched an impressive sprint that allowed him to take a big home win.

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