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After his bad luck two days ago, Froome bounced back by riding to an impressive solo win in the Tour de Romandie queen stage; Izagirre beat Pinot in the sprint for second and moved into 3rd on GC while Quintana retained the lead

Photo: Con Chronis














30.04.2016 @ 17:53 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Chris Froome (Sky) proved that there is nothing wrong with his condition for the Tour de France by claiming a magnificent solo victory in the Tour de Romandie queen stage. Having attacked already on the penultimate climb, he timed trialled his way up the final ascent to narrowly hold off an elite group of climbers that was led to the finish by Ion Izagirre (Movistar) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). The bonus seconds allowed Izagirre to move into third overall while his teammate Nairo Quintana comfortably retained his lead.


Four days ago, Chris Froome rolled down the start ramp for the opening prologue at the Tour de Romandie as the pre-race favourite to win the race overall. After all, he had already won the race in 2014 and 2015 and with no health issues to slow him down, he had had a much better build-up than he had had for the past two years.


However, it all unraveled in the first mountain stage when a puncture at the worst possible moment cost him so much time that he never made it back to the leaders. Hence, he dropped out of GC contention but with the race being his final test before a big break for racing, he was intent on using the rest of the race to test his form.


He did so in yesterday’s time trial where he finished fourth and later told L’Equipe that he was now targeting the win in today’s queen stage. He delivered on his promises as he rode to an impressive solo win after having attacked from far out and dropped long-time companion Tejay van Garderen (BMC) on the finale climb.


The stage ended with a difficult 32.3km circuit that included a tough category 1 climb, a difficult descent and a short flat section, meaning that the riders would go up the ascent twice inside the final 45km. As they hit the climb for the first time, Bob Jungels (Lotto Soudal), Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha) and Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal) had an advantage of 3 minutes and the drama started immediately.


While lots of riders were dropped from the peloton, Armee lost contact with the leaders, leaving just Kochetkov and Jungels to press on. In the peloton, things heated up when Simon Spilak (Katusha) took off, with Moreno Moser (Cannondale) joining the move. That forced Movistar to chase hard and after riders like Diego Rosa (Astana) and Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) had been dropped, only 30 riders were left in the peloton that was 10 seconds behind the front duo.


While Jungels dropped Kochetkov, Spilak left Moser behind and increased his advantage over the Movistar-led peloton to 20 seconds. At the same time the selection continued as riders like Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty), Davide Formolo (Cannondale) and Jerome Coppel (IAM) were dropped.


Spilak was brought back and Kochetkov managed to rejoin Jungels who was now less than 2 minutes ahead of the peloton. They lost even more ground though as things really heated up in the peloton when Chris Froome (Sky) attacked, with Tejay van Garderen following the move.


Kochetkov led Jungels over the top while van Garderen and Froome crossed the line in that order 20 seconds later. Andrey Amador was in front of the peloton, working hard for Movistar and reducing the gap to just 1.15 at the KOM sprint.


Froome and van Garderen joined the leaders with 35km to go to form a front quartet with an advantage of 1.05. They crossed the finish line 4km later with a gap of 50 seconds as Amador and Gorka Izagirre were chasing hard. At this point, the peloton had been whittled down to just Spilak, Taaramae, Zakarin, Majka, Poljanski, Nieve, Moinard, Caruso, Verona, Quintana, Izagirre, Izagirre, Amador, Howson, Haig, Pinot, Morabito, Geniez, Reichenbach, Mollema, Valls, Monfort, Costa, Uran, Moser, Rolland, Frank, Latour, Bardet, Lopez, Kudus and Dumoulin.


While Amador and Gorka Izagirre chased hard on the descent, Kanstantsin Siutsou (Dimension Data) rejoined the peloton. In fact, they rode so hard on the slick roads that they created several splits. Van Garderen also briefly distanced his companions but they were back together as they finished the descent with a 40-second advantage.


Only Amador, Izagirre, Quintana, Izagirre, Costa, Poljanski, Uran, Moser, Valls, Bardet Frank, Monfort, Lopez, Majka, Taaramae, Zakarin, Spialk Caruso, Rolland, Haig, Mollema and Verona were the only survivors as they hit the flat roads and Dumoulin and Pinot had to dig deep to rejoin the group.


The rest of the group also latched onto the back end of the field which lost a bit of ground on the flat roads and so the gap had gone out to 45 seconds with 15km to go. Meanwhile, Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty) and Jan Polanc (Lampre-Merida) rejoined the peloton.


The front quartet hit the climb with an advantage of 55 seconds and Kochetkov fell off immediately. Further back, his teammate Spilak launched the first attack and after Polanc had tried to join him, he surged clear.


Jungels was the next to get dropped from the front group while Kochetkov dropped back to assist Spilak who quickly left his teammate behind. Meanwhile, lots of riders were dropped from the peloton, including Morabito, Amador, Geniez, Moinard, Gasparotto, Polanc, Nieve, Moser, Gorka Izagirre and Siutsou.


Quintana now only had Ion Izagirre at his side and as the Basque was also aiming for GC, there was lots of room for attacks. Romain Bardet (Ag2r) was the first to try but Mathias Frank (IAM) shut it down. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) also tried an unsuccessful move.


With 11km to go, Froome and van Garderen were 50 seconds ahead of the peloton while Spilak had built an advantage of 15 seconds. Further back, the attacking continued as Merhawi Kudus was one of the many riders to attack but it was Lopez who surged clear. Meanwhile, Spilak past Jungels.


Bardet tried again with Pierre Rolland (Cannondale) on his wheel but Pinot shut it down and continued to ride on the front, bringing Lopez back in the process. As he swung off, Lopez regained an advantage before Rui Costa (Lampre), Bardet and Izagirre bridged across. However, Sebastien Reichenbach brought the quartet back for FDJ. Jungels was also swallowed up.


This is when Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) made his move and together with Pierre Latour (Ag2r) he got a small gap. However, Izagirre went straight to the front to shut it down and when Pinot countered, it was Quintana who reacted.


Pinot rode hard on the front and only Quintana, Zakarin, Costa, Uran, Reichenbach, Latour, Izagirre and Bardet could hang on as he brought Spilak back. Frank, Valls and Mollema made it back but as Spilak hit out again, Frank was distanced.


Froome and van Garderen were still 40 seconds ahead when Quintana briefly accelerated with 8km to go. However, it was Spilak who again used a moment of hesitation to surge ahead.


With 7km to go, van Garderen could no longer keep up with Froome who quickly got a big advantage. Meanwhile, Reichenbach started to ride on the front in the main group and while Frank, Dumoulin and Caruso rejoined the group, Spilak was brought back.


Pinot was relentless and hit out again and only Zakarin, Spilak, Uran, Izagirre, Quintana, Mollema and Costa could follow. Reichenbach and Frank also got back before Izagirre made a faild attack.


Bardet, Latour, Dumoulin and Caruso latched onto the back of the field but that’s when the key selection was made. Uran hit out and was only followed by Izagirre, Pinot and Quintana. Zakarin and Costa had to dig deep to get across before Pinot made another failed attempt.


Mollema showed impressive strength to bridge across from the second group which was made up of Latour, Bardet, Reichenbach, Dumoulin, Frank, Caruso and Spilak. He dug deep to stay there as Costa was riding hard to gain as much time as possible.


Froome crested the summit with a solid advantage over van Garderen while Costa, Quintana, Pinot and Izagirre were first from the chase group 40 seconds later. The Brit opted for safety on the slick roads in the final kilometres and so he started to lose ground while Mollema made a failed attempt to get clear.


Mollema tried again but when Pinot joined him, it came back together. From there, Costa started to ride hard again and so van Garderen was brought back.


Froome almost took it too easy in the finale as the peloton suddenly got very close but he had enough left to take the win with a 4-second advantage. Importantly, Izagirre managed to beat Pinot and Zakarin in the sprint for second and the 6 bonus seconds allowed him to move into third overall. Quintana crossed the line in fifth and even though Pinot’s bonus seconds saw his advantage getting reduced to 19 seconds, he retained the lead.


He now just needs to get safely through the final stage which only has two category 3 climbs in the first half. As the second half is mostly downhill or flat, it is expected that the sprinters will have their say on the final day in Romandie.


The queen stage

After yesterday’s time trial, it was time for the queen stage which brought the riders over 172.7km from Conthey to Villars sur Ollon. After a flat start with just a small category 3 climb, the riders tackled the big Col des Planches at the midpoint before going up another category 3 climb. In the end, they faced a difficult 32.3km circuit that included an 8.9km category 1 climb with an average gradient of 7.8%. The riders went up the climb twice, with the top coming just 4.1km from the line. The final part was mostly slightly uphill, with the final 400m averaging 4.7%.


Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida) who had fallen ill, and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) both stayed at the hotel while the rest of the peloton gathered in Conthey under a sunny sky. As expected it was a brutally fast opening phase as many riders wanted to join the break and it was a 9-rider break that first got clear. They stayed ahead until the 9km mark when it all came back together.


Lots of attacks

Small groups of 3, 3 and 5 riders all briefly escaped but after 17km of racing, it was all back together. This is when Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r) joined a 4-rider break with Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha) and Amael Moinard (BMC) before they took off to form a strong a duo. After Jungels had led Bardet over the top of the first climb, followed by Kochetkov and Moinard, it was Kanstantsin Siutsou (Dimension Data) and Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto Soudal) who joined the move and after a chase group of seven riders had been brought back, Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff), Damiano Caruso (BMC) and Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida) bridged the 7-second gap to the leaders after 27km of fast racing.


The attacking continued and when Mikael Cherel (Ag2r), Dries Devenyns (IAM), Nico Brüngger (Roth), Egor Silin (Katusha), Tobias Ludvigsson (Giant-Alpecin) and Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEDGE) made it across, 13 riders had suddenly gathered in front with a 13-second advantage. The gap stayed around that mark for a few kilometres but after Marco Minnaard (Wanty) had made a failed attempt to join the move, it all came back together after 35km of racing.


11 riders get clear

Marczynski and Jungels refused to give up and as they went again, Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Chad Haga (Giant-Alpecin), Matthias Krizek (Roth), Marco Marcato (Wanty) and Marcel Wyss (IAM) joined them. However, they had no luck either and as the peloton entered the final 120km, no one had escaped.


While Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) and Fumiyuki Beppu (Trek) abandoned, the attacking continued after a first hour during which a massive 48.9km had been covered. Two riders managed to escape and at the 61km mark, an 11-rider group with Marcato, Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff), Cameron Meyer (Dimension Data), Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha), Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep), Ludvigsson, Jungels, Jarlinson Pantano (IAM), Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal), Bono and Martin Kohler (Roth) had formed. Finally, the peloton decided to take a breather and with 110km to go, the gap had gone out to more than a minute.


Three rider surge clear

While the gap went out to more than two minutes, Jack Bobridge (Trek) became the third rider to abandon and Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) could easily rejoin the peloton after a puncture. When Kittel eat Kohler and Armee in the first intermediate sprint, the group was more than three minutes ahead.


As the peloton hit the Col des Planches, Movistar accelerated hard and had brought the gap down to 2.20 when Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale) and Cherel tried to bridge across to the leaders. Up the road, Kohler and Kittel were dropped from the break and Marcato also had to surrender. The selection continued and as they approached the top, only Jungels, Kochetkov and Armee had survived.


KOM points for Armee

Dombrowski were brought back as Movistar continued to ride hard, reducing the gap to 1.30 with 92km to go. However, the front trio had managed to push it out to 1.45 when Armee led Kochetkov and Jungels over the top. At this point, Dombrowski had almost made the junction as he was fourth, followed by Rovny in fifth.


The riders had covered 38.6km during the second hour as they sped down the descent where Movistar stepped slightly off the gas. While Albert Timmer (Giant-Alpecin) left the race, the peloton picked up most of the early break, including Kittel.


The gap grows

With 78km to go, Jungels, Kochetkov and Armee led Dombrowski, Rovny and Ludvigsson by 1.05 while the peloton was 2.45 adrift. The front trio was gaining time on both of their chase groups and after Robert Kiserlovski (Tinkoff) had left the race, they reached the final 60km with advantage of two and four minutes respectively.


Movistar were pleased to see the bonus seconds slip away so as they approached the next category 3 climb, they allowed the gap to go out to 4.51. Meanwhile, the chasers were still losing ground and found themselves 2.42 behind when rain started to fall with 55km to go.


Cannondale take control

Armee beat Jungels and Kochetkov in the next KOM sprint while Dombrowski was first from the chase group. The peloton crested the summit with a deficit of almost five minutes.


Finally, Cannondale took the initiative in the peloton and this had an immediate effect. When Jungels beat Kochetkov and Armee in the final intermediate sprint, the gap was down to 4.10 and it was less than 4 minutes with 43km to go.


The chasers were brought back before the hit the final climb for the first time and it was Cannondale who led the group onto the ascent 3 minutes behind the leaders. Moments later Froome made his race-winning move.



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