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Pinot launched a well-timed attack out of a select group of favourites on the final climb to take a solo win in the Tour de Romandie queen stage; Zakarin finished second and took the overall lead

Photo: Muscat Municipality/Paumer/B.Bade










02.05.2015 @ 18:02 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) broke his long victory drought when he took a huge solo win in the Tour de Romandie queen stage. The Frenchman exploited a moment of hesitation in the small group of favourites to launch a well-timed attack with 5km to go and then time trialled his way to the top, holding of the pre-race favourites. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) set off in pursuit and with a second place he took over the yellow jersey on the eve of the final time trial.


The 2014 season was magical one for Thibaut Pinot as he finished on the podium and won the white jersey at the Tour de France. However, one issue marred the talented Frenchman when he was asked to evaluate his season: the fact that he hadn’t taken a single victory since 2012.


Going into the 2015 season, Pinot made it a big goal to break his drought but it seemed that his many near-misses continued to mar him when he finished second in the Criterium Internation despite being the overwhelming favourite. After he again came up short in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, he only had one chance left to take the elusive win in the spring season, with the Tour de Romandie being his final race.


Today things finally came together for a strong Pinot as he managed to win the queen stage of the Swiss race. In his preferred bad weather, the Frenchman did everything right to exploit the fight between the favourites to come away with the win.


Pinot found himself in 30-rider group that hit the bottom of the final 14km climb and he was perfectly supported by teammate Steve Morabito who made sure that he entered the ascent near the front. He was well-positioned as Movistar hit the front to make the race hard, with Jonathan Castroviejo doing the early work.


Riders started to get dropped when Winner Anacona took over and the favourites started to catch a glimpse of hope when Chris Froome (Sky) was riding near the back, with small gap opening in front of him. However, the Brit moved to the front in time for the attacks to start with 8km to go when Yury Trofimov (Katusha) took off.


Trofimov got a small gap but it was quickly nullified when Nairo Quintana (Movistar) made a move. However, the Colombian was closely marked and so a small front group gathered.


Michele Scarponi (Astana) was the next to try but he was quickly brought back and instead he stated to ride on the front of the group. However, the standstill was quickly broken by Quintana who tried again, followed by Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Simon Spilak, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo). Romain Bardet (Ag2r), Pinot and Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) made it back before Darwin Atapuma (BMC9´), Trofimov and Froome also made the junction.


While Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) drifted far backwards, Quintana tried again but Nibali, Spilak, Bardet, Uran, Majka, Pinot and Yates marked him closely. Froome rejoined them before Bardet and Majka launched what looked like a successful attack.


Zakarin and Pinot hesitated a bit before they bridged the gap to the two leaders. However, Froome was now getting better and with Quintana, Spilak, Nibali, Uran and Yates glued to his wheel, he brought the quartet back.


Bardet made the next move and he was quickly joined by Zakarin while Froome set the pace in the group that had been joined by Atapuma, Mathias Frank (IAM), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Soudal), Scarponi and Trofimov. That’s when the Brit made his first acceleration and only Majka, Uran, Quintana, Nibali, Spilak and Pinot could keep up with him as he made it back to the leaders.


As the pace went down, Pinot made his move and no one responded. Bardet and Spilak took off in pursuit while Scarponi and Yates rejoined the group.


Scarponi started to ride tempo but the bunch lost ground to the two front group. That forced Froome to make another attack and only Quintana, Majka and Zakarin could keep up with him as he made it back to Spilak and Bardet. Uran, Yates, Nibali and Scarponi joined forces further back.


Froome tried to attack again but as he failed to get clear he started to ride tempo. He didn’t respond when Zakarin took off and the Russian quickly started to get closer to the lone Pinot.


From there it was a time trial, with Pinot keeping Zakarin at bay and Froome leading the group containing himself, Quintana, Bardet, Spilak and Majka. The gaps remained pretty constant for the final 3km and so Pinot managed to hold on to take a huge solo win. Zakarin followed 7 seconds later while Bardet won the sprint for third in the group that lost 20 seconds.


Zakarin limited his losses to Pinot sufficiently to take the leader’s jersey with a 6-second advantage over the Frenchman who moves into second. However, Froome is ready to strike in third as he only trails the leader by 14 seconds as he goes into the final 17.3km time trial. The course is a mixed affair bookended by flat sections, with a hilly middle part where the riders will go up a few short, pretty steep climbs.


The queen stage

After three moderately hilly stages, it was time for the queen stage in the Tour de Romandie. The course brought the riders over 162.7km from Fribourg to a summit finish in Champex-Lac and was a very tough affair. After a long, flat opening section, the riders went up the category 1 Col des Mosses before they tackled a long descent that led them to the flat valley road in the Alps. From here, they deviated from the direct line twice to go up two category 1 climb, with the final of those summiting 24km from the finish. Then it was a fast descent to the bottom of the final 14km climb which had an average gradient of 7%.


After yesterday’s very wet stage, the riders had dry and cloudy condition when they left Fribourg. However, there were two notable non-starters as Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) had both decided to travel home, the latter to prepare for the Giro d’Italia.


Two riders go clear

Unlike in the previous stages, the riders got the race off to a pretty fast start with several attacks and it took some time for the early break to be formed. After 12km of racing, however, the elastic had snapped when KOM leader Maxim Belkov (Katusha) and Bryan Nalleau (Europcar) had opened a 30-second advantage but they had to fight hard to get a bigger advantage. At the 17km mark, they were still only 45 seconds ahead but now the peloton slowed down, with Sky setting a moderate pace on the fron.


After 20km of racing, the advantage was 2.40 and 2km later it had gone out to 3.25. It passed the 5-minute mark after 27km of racing and had gone out to 6.30 at the 36km mark.


Niemiec hits the front

The peloton was still in no hurry and so the gap reached 7.45 when the escapees hit the bottom of the Col des Mosses. After Sky had set the early pace, however, Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) now took over and he brought the gap down to 6 minutes halfway up the climb.


At the top of the climb, the gap had come down to 4.15 and it was Belkov who led Naulleau over the summit while Ruben Plaza (Lampre-Merida), Manuel Senni and Darwin Atapuma (BMC) were first from the peloton. However, they slowed down as they started the descent and this allowed Stefan Küng (BMC) to take off in pursuit.


Astana does some damage

The bunch now took it easy and as they passed the 90km mark, the gap had gone out to 8.10. When Belkov beat Naulleau and Küng in the first intermediate sprint, it was even 9.40. Meanwhile, Küng decided to sit up to wait for the peloton.


As they hit the second climb of the day, Andriy Grivko upped the tempo for Astana and this sent several riders out the back door, with Küng being one of the riders to lose contact. The Kazakh team lined four riders out on the front and 1km from the top of the climb, they had brought the gap down to 4.40. At this point, race leader Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) had been distanced.


Astana in control

Belkov led Naulleau over the top while Scarponi, Nibali and Andrey Amador (Movistar) were first from the peloton. On the descent, Astana slowed down and so a small regrouping took place, with Albasini being one of the riders to get back in contention.


Andrey Zeits and Alessandro Vanotti rode on the front for Astana in the valley to keep the gap stable at around 34.15 for a while until the fight for position really started. With 32km to go, they were swamped by Lampre-Merida, BMC, Movistar, IAM, Cannondale and Tinkoff-Saxo who lined out their trains on the front.


The break splits up

Naulleau led Belkov over the line in the final intermediate sprint while Albasini moved ahead to lead the peloton across the line 3 minutes later. Stef Clement (IAM) and Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida) took over and as they started the penultimate climb, it was the Dutchman who set the pace.


Naulleau was distanced from the break while Albasini was one of the first riders to get dropped from the peloton. Meanwhile, Nibali asked Rein Taaramae to up the pace before Movistar took over with Eros Capecchi and he set a fast pace in the remaining part of the ascent to gradually whittle down the group.


Belkov is caught

With 27km to go, Naulleau was brought back and Belkov was now also losing ground quickly. When he crested the summit, he was only a few seconds ahead and moments later it was all back together.


Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) set the pace on the descent while Riccardo Zoidl (Trek) got distanced on the wet roads. As they hit the valley, Castroviejo took over and after he briefly had given room for Marcel Wyss for IAM, he again upped the pace at the bottom of the final climb.



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