Second Straight Stage Win for Michael Albasini in RomandieThu 1 May 2014
ORICA-GreenEDGE’s Michael Albasini made it two for two at the Tour de Romandie, taking out the second road stage of his home country tour. A nearly 70-strong bunch contested the sprint in Montreux where Albasini beat out Tony Hurel (Europcar) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) to the line. With the stage two win came ten bonus seconds and the yellow overall leader’s jersey.
“My teammates put me under pressure today,” said Albasini with a laugh. “I was not feeling great today. I had the race from yesterday in my legs. When we started riding on the front, I knew I had to deliver something because they did a really big effort. I’m happy to win after the work they did today.”
“The yellow jersey is a very, very pleasant bonus,” said Sport Director Neil Stephens. “It’s exciting for Switzerland to have someone as popular as Michael Albasini deliver two victories and the yellow jersey, ending a dry spell for Swiss riders in this race. We weren’t riding for the jersey. We were riding for the stage win, but the results Michael achieved have given him the jersey. It’s a very welcome surprise.”
After his brilliant victory yesterday, Albasini was the protected rider for the Australian outfit on stage two. Stephens expected a reduced bunch to contest the finish and was confident the stage one winner would be in the mix at the finish.
“The plan right from the start was to support Michael,” said Stephens. “Before the race began on Tuesday, we always knew we would go for Michael on today’s stage. We thought there was a very good chance that he would win it – especially after we saw how he went yesterday.”
“The bunch was bigger than we had hoped coming into the finish, but Michael is a fighter,” Stephens added. “He’s very dedicated to his teammates. He saw the effort that they gave for him, and he wasn’t going to go down without a fight. He took out the finish today in large part thanks to their work.”
“Maybe it was a smart move to put me under pressure,” said Albasini. “I had to do something with the way they rode. I’m really thankful for the work they did.”
Martin Kohler (BMC) and Pirmin Lang (IAM) animated the early action. The duo broke away from the bunch shortly after the stage start in Sion. In the opening hour, the leaders built up a maximum advantage of more than 13 minutes.
“We were in a tricky position with the breakaway,” explained Stephens. “Neither of the guys were a danger for the general classification, so Quick-Step was quite happy to let them ride away. This left us in a difficult situation where our big powerful guys – Michael Hepburn, Svein Tuft and Brett Lancaster – would have to chase but first they had to get over the first of the two third category climbs in today’s stage.”
“They got over the first climb, and then we really laid it down,” added Stephens. “They made a huge effort between the two categorised climbs in a 40 kilometre period. They did a fantastic job to get the gap down to five minutes in a very short time. Not many people in the world could do that the way they did. It’s actually really good training for those three for the Giro.”
As the breakaway’s advantage continued to fall, a handful other teams committed to the chase. Belkin and Omega Pharma – Quick-Step sent riders to the front. Thirty kilometres from the finish, the peloton had crested the uncategorized climb that came quick on the heels of the second category three mountain, and the breakaway’s advantage had fallen below the two minute mark.
“We had the four guys that we would expect to be there at the end make it over the final climb,” explained Stephens. “Hepburn, Lancaster and Tuft went out the back after they had done their job. That left us with Nino Schurter, who is racing his first WorldTour event, Christian Meier, Cameron Meyer and Michael. Luckily other teams had started to commit to the chase by that point. With other teams working, we could use Christian to look after Cam and Michael.”
The peloton continued to chase on the downhill run-in to the finish, overtaking Kohler and Lang inside the final three kilometres. Light rain and one short steep kick before the final plunge toward the line made for a technical finale. Overnight race leader Michal Kwiatkowski was the first to accelerate to the line, but there was no stopping Albasini once he opened his sprint.
“When you’re not feeling good, you never know how the sprint is going to work out,” said Albasini. “I started moving up really late. I left it until three or four kilometres to go. I watched out for some quick wheels, and I was lucky to choose the right one. I stayed on the wheel up to 100 metres when I could go just on the right side. I was quite fresh because I wasn’t catching any wind. It was perfect for me. I was surprised to win such a big bunch sprint
While Albasini will wear the yellow jersey during the queen stage of the Tour de Romandie, the team’s efforts will focus on Meyer. The Australian is better equipped to contend with the four first category climbs in the mountains behind Aigle.
“The stage is something nobody can take away,” said Albasini. “It’s a bit different with the yellow jersey, but once you have it, you’re never going to give it away for free. I’m going to fight tomorrow and try to stay there as long as possible.”
“It’s a very demanding stage tomorrow,” added Stephens. “It will be hard day for all the riders. We’re very happy to have the yellow jersey but we’re realistic about Michael’s chances of keeping it.”
“Unless something happens where there is a drastic change to the race route, which is the way he won the overall in Catalunya two years ago, Michael doesn’t have much of a chance to win the Tour of Switerland,” Stephens explained. “He won’t go down without a fight, but it’s unrealistic to think he’s going to get over the big mountains with the best guys in the world. Our best chance for a good result tomorrow is in Cameron Meyer, and we’ll focus on him.”