The Tour of the Alps did not take long to start giving up huge emotions to the cycling fans. A spectacular finale sealed the historical first stage of the new event, with the showdown among the announced favorites on the finale drag to Hungerburg – 7% average gradient. A just-over-3-km climb was enough to light up the race, and set up an exciting finish just over Innsbruck, at a 848 meters altitude, with some early indications on the conditions of the top contenders for this race – and also for the Giro d’Italia.
Michele Scarponi (Astana) showed he is ready to fill the void left by Fabio Aru, claiming his first ever stage win in the event – though he had won a Giro del Trentino GC in 2011 – with an uphill sprint in which he prevailed on Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ): the top favorites are not hiding at all. Michele Scarponi claimed his first ever win in an Astana jersey, and the first in the year for the Kazakh team, getting back in the fuchsia jersey six years later.
The day had started in Kufstein, the venue of yesterday’s presentation. After the start of the 139 riders in the race, the early onwas characterized by several breakaway attempts, with rain pouring on the riders in the first part of the race, then leaving way to a milder and wet weather for the rest of the way. Ackermann (Bora), Ballerini (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Foliforov (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Zhupa (Wilier Triestina), Orrico (Sangemini-MG kVis) and Gamper (Tirol Cycling Team), got clear after 4 km, but couldn’t resist to the comeback of the peloton on the first of two categorized climbs of the day. Foliforov remained out for longer, partnering with Hugh Carthy (Cannondale-Drapac) for some kilometers, before the group got back together. Foliforov’s grit was rewarded with the first KOM jersey, whilst the first red jersey (Intermediate Sprint) was worn by Bora-hansgrohe’s Pascal Ackermann.
The most important attempt of the day was still to come though, as Francesco Gavazzi (Androni-Sidermec), Iuri Filosi (Nippo-Vini Fantini) and Matthias Krizek (Tirol) put on a good attempt, that required all the effort from Team Sky and FDJ to get them back in control at the foot of the final drag. Team Sky elevated the pace even further, stretching the peloton out, before an attack by Geraint Thomas made the decisive selection with 1,5 km to go. Scarponi was the first to react, followed by Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and Mattia Cattaneo (Androni-Sidermec). Pozzovivo tried to take advantage of the toughest section to attack, but he found the reaction of the fellow leaders, on whose wake also returned Formolo and Pinot with 500 meters to go. Formolo launched the long sprint, but Michele Scarponi’s acceleration ultimately proved the decisive one. Behind the Italian, Thomas managed to keep off Pinot’s comeback: a classification that immediately shows how much the leaders care about this race, and their intentions for the toughest stages to come.
As for the other favorites, Rohan Dennis surrendered 11 seconds in 9th position, behind Youth Classification’s leader Hugh Carthy (Cannondale-Drapac), Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) gave up 17 seconds, defending champion Mikel Landa (Team Sky) couldn’t do better than 21st at 26 seconds. But he gaps are still reduced, and there are still a lot of big mountains to go.
Tomorrow, April 18th, the second stage will take the riders from Innsbruck to Innervillgraten (km 181.3), with the two categorized climbs of Brennero (Cat. 1) and Santa Giustina (Cat. 2). The start will be given at 10.30.
MICHELE SCARPONI’S QUOTES
First stage victory at Tour of the Alps (former Giro del Trentino)
In 2011 I had won the Giro del Trentino without winning any stage. Finally today I managed to raise my arms for a stage win, a wonderful feelings that I had been missing for long time. The stage was demanding, even if it was arguably the easiest on chart. Team Sky really pushed the pace to start the climb, and Thomas attacked with 2 km to go, but I was sharp enough to stay with him and Pozzovivo, and ultimately tried my move with 300 meters to go.
Astana breaks the ice
It’s my first ever victory for Astana, and the first in the season for the Team too. We have been racing well lately, but for some reason the win kept eluding us. So this win is very good also for the team’s morale.
Thomas and Pinot rode like leaders, their teams made the race and this is a sign of confidence. Pozzovivo is always very consistent, generally and in this race. I was also impressed by myself, as I was coming off the training camp in Sierra Nevada, but you never know how you are actually doing until you get some race action. I think there is still room for improvement, but even if I could just bring this condition into the Giro I would not complain.
The leader’s jersey
Tonight we are sleeping with the leader’s jersey, but there is still a long way until Friday. No one likes to surrender the leader’s jersey, so we will race to defend it, but today I would rather enjoy this winning taste I had not been feeling for some time, and then we will try to focus on tomorrow.
There are some rumors about snow, and I have a perfect last name for that (Scarponi in Italian means boots). In case of snow, descents might prove treacherous, but we have competent people taking decisions on that on our behalf. Also today the weather was expected to be much worse that it actually was, so let’s stay positive.
A special dedication
I want to dedicate this win to my twins, Giacomo and Tommaso, and to my wife, ‘cause I love them so much. And also to my Region, Marche, and all those regions hit hard by last summer’s earthquake in Italy: I know what it means, and I truly hope I could bring some joy to my land with this victory. And, of course, to my Astana team and teammates.
(Credits Josef Vaishar – Cycling.Photography)