Tour of the Alps might have been the sun so far, but the show was there all the way. The second stage of the new Euro-Regional race that took over from Giro del Trentino provided another big-name win. On the Austrian finish in Innervillgraten, Rohan Dennis enjoyed his first win in this edition, finding morale and confidence in his quest to convert himself into a GT contender. Dennis topped the uphill sprint over Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), who improved his yesterday’s placement and took over the fuchsia leader’s jersey. Third spot for an Italian, Davide Ballerini (Androni-Sidermec), giving consistency to a good early season form by the Gianni Savio’s team.
It was in the forecast, and it eventually came. The bad weather in Austria forced the organizer to change the programme of stage 2. The start was supposed to be in Innsbruck, from the iconic Europe Bridge, and instead the snowfall on the Brenner Pass made it too risky for the riders to take: the jury and organizers put riders’ safety first, moving the start to Vipiteno and reducing the stage distance by 40 kilometres.
After the transfer with the teams’ vehicles, the 138 riders found way better conditions at the start given at 12. The group moved together at very fast pace before the first breakaway came out. Four riders moved away from the pack: Pascal Ackermann (Bora-hansgrohe), Simone Velasco (Bardiani-Csf), Niccolò Salvietti (Sangemini-MgKVis) and Patrick Gamper (Tirol Cycling Team). The break had a maximum advantage of 2.16” at km 42, when Gazprom took charge of making the pace in the peloton, helped by Team Sky. The four leaders were reeled in with 26 km to go, at the foot of the Santa Justina climb, the sole categorized ascent after the Brennero’s scratch.
The race lit up on the Brennero’s hairpins: Alexander Foliforov (Gazprom-Rusvelo) forced the pace, and was joined by Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani-Csf), last year’s winner Mikel Landa (Team Sky) and Ilia Koshevoy (Wilier Triestina). In the descent, the four added another piece in Damiano Caruso (BMC).
An attack by Landa with 7 km to go further reduced the lead to three men – the Spaniard, Pirazzi and Caruso: the breakaway tried to resist to the comeback of the pack, with Pirazzi last to surrender after a solo attempt with 2 km to go. The outcome of the reduced sprint was uncertain until the line, with Dennis able to hold off Pinot, Ballerini and Thomas. With the second place, Thibaut Pinot moved to the top of the overall standings, taking the fuchsia jersey off the shoulders of Michele Scarponi.
“Yesterday I didn’t ride the final climb perfectly, tactical-wise. I lost time and it’s not good when you come with overall ambitions. Today, I managed to bounce back from that disappointment, and also regain some confidence and morale. It was a chilly, but good day.”
Fast wheel, sometimes
“I’ve won a couple of times in a sprint. I am not someone who can contest Kittel, Sagan, or even Greg Van Avermaet, but when it comes to uphill sprints, I have enough to get a win every now and then.”
Without the Brenner
“To cut out Brennero Pass was a good decision. I think Brennero wouldn’t have changed the unfolding of the race. I expected about 60 riders to contest the finish today, and that’s what actually happened.”
To seize the day
“I have come here with that sort of my mentality: come in day by day and see how I feel. If I can, I can. If I can’t, tru to minimize the loss, like I did yesterday. I think it’s better for me to look at it kilometer by kilometer, and try to get the best possible result at that point of the race, instead of thinking too far ahead, to care about the condition of my legs, and try to take the opportunities when they come.”
Teammates’ work repaid
“To get the stage win for them is great to sort of give them confidence in me, and one guy specially for me today was Rosskopf, he was riding in front for the last 10km, he was amazing when it came to the leadout for Brent Bookwalter and I. I’m glad I can repay them for the work they’ve done today.”
The queen stage
“I think with my legs today, if I feel the same, I don’t think there’s a reason why I wouldn’t be able to be in the top-1 tomorrow. I think I just have to not think too much. The toughest pass isn’t the finish of the race, I have to remind myself that. I have to make it to the top of the climb and hope I’m still in contention for the GC at the end of it.”
A nice surprise
“It was a surprise for me to take the leader’s jersey, I didn’t expect it. It was a fast stage with cold weather that it’s something I don’t dislike, it was good for me.
My focus was to be in the best position at the end of the race, I didn’t expect to be in the leader’s jersey.
It was an excellent decision to cut the first part of the race today because it was snowing, it was very cold and many riders are here to prepare Giro, that’s something you have to take in consideration. I don’t think the Brennero Pass would’ve affected the final result, and we also found good conditions from the point we took the start.”
“I think my shape is improving day by day, taking into account I had not raced since Tirreno-Adriatico, I’m confident I’ll find a better shape through the week at Tour of the Alps.”
A key stage
“I’m sure tomorrow will be a good stage, the hardest one, and I hope to defend the jersey. For sure the last 3 days are the toughest ones, we will try to defend the lead.”
Italy mon amour
“I have always loved racing in Italy, I also got some good results here. Since this will be my first Giro, it seemed logical to me to be here, taking in races suited for my characteristics: Sanremo, Tirreno-Adriatico, and of course Tour of the Alps, a race I had always wanted to take part in.”
Head home with the jersey
“After the race I will go home for some days, as I spent very little time there lately, coming off the training camp. It’s also important to rest before a race like the Giro. And hopefully I can go home with this jersey in my luggage.”
A CHANGE IN STAGE THREE: NO ERBE PASS, THE ALPE DI RODENGO IS LOOMING
Tomorrow the weather on the Tour of the Alps should improve, but today’s snowfall forced the organizers to change also tomorrow’s third stage, Villabassa-Funes (San Pietro). The race won’t pass on the 2000 mt. Erbe Pass, that will be replaced by the Terento climb in the first half of the race, reducing the distance from 143,1 to 135,6 km. The second half of the race wont’ change though, with the feared Alpe di Rodengo, 12,7 km long with a 7% gradient, with the kilometers from 5th to 8th always above 10%. It will be a severe test for the favorites before the final ascent to Funes: at the end, the Tour of the Alps’ GC will certainly look different.