Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas might have been the most expected rider in today’s Tour of the Alps stage 3, Villabassa-Funes of 135,6 km: the Alpe Rodengo and the final climb to Funes were deemed to be crucial tests for his new GT contender’s credentials. Many thought Mikel Landa would have been Team Sky’s guy for the day, and it actually looked like that until 1 km to go. But it’s never over until it’s over: Thomas succeeded in an outstanding progression into the final 1000 meters, claiming an impressive win over Landa in a Team Sky parade.
The stage also said a lot about the conditions of Giro d’Italia contenders: Landa is certainly stronger than what we saw in Innsbruck, while Pozzovivo is always a solid bid when it comes to late April. Scarponi was still solid, like Formolo, whilst Thibaut Pinot looked less brilliant than the previous days but was still fifth on the day, and never got out of top-5 in this race. Yesterday’s winner Rohan Dennis (BMC) was the only one of the favorites to end out of contention: there’s still room for a big battle in the last couple of days.
HOW IT UNFOLDED
The day’s breakaway came out early after the official start. A trio of Leigh Howard (Aqua Blue), Davide Orrico (Sangemini-MGkVis) and Filippo Fortin (Tirol) saw their advantage grow quickly, reaching a 6.30 advantage before even reaching the Terento climb. The Gazprom-Rusvelo of KOM classification leader Alexander Foliforov took the reins of the bunch, but still the gap remained stable on the way to the top, with Italian youngster Orrico topping the Cat. 1 climb.
The three leaders kept on together until the feared and unprecedented climb to the Alpe Rodengo. It was again Orrico who showed the best climbing skills, dropping first Fortin and then Howard, while Team Sky pushed a strong but regular pace in the bunch to reduce the gap. Orrico succeeded to claim his 2nd KOM of the day, with the peloton reached the peak two minutes later.
There were just forty riders composing the main bunch at the foot of the last climb in pursuit of Orrico, who managed to defend only 38 seconds on the chasers. Team Sky kept pushing with Ian Boswell in first position until he left it to Philip Deignan to force the pace even further. Orrico finally had to give up with 7,5 km to the finish, with the peloton reduced to 20 riders. Then, defending champion Mikel Landa (Team Sky) launched his acceleration with 5 km to go, followed by Dario Cataldo (Astana) and then joined by Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale).
The Italian forced the pace again, dropping Cataldo and sharing the lead with the Spaniard. Behind, Scarponi tried to lead the chase, with Geraint Thomas looking brilliant in his wake, whilst leader Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) did not look to have the best of days. With 2 km to go, Pozzovivo and Landa had 20 seconds on the chasers, and looked destined to a 2-man battle for the win. Then, the unexpected happens: Davide Formolo (Cannondale) attacks from the bunch, Geraint Thomas follows and breezes past the Italian with a remarkable progression, and quickly closes in to the leaders into the last 500 meters. From there on, it’s a Team Sky party, with the Brit celebrating the stage win over teammate Mikel Landa, and Pozzovivo in third. Thomas claims also the Fuchsia jersey: the Tour of the Alps might have found its man to beat.
GERAINT THOMAS’ QUOTES
“At the foot of the final climb Landa and I were both feeling good, so we decided he will try to go on the attack, so I could sit up on the wheels a bit and save energy. When Formolo attacked in the final kilometers, I saw the rest of the group was at the limit so I tried to go, even though I didn’t think I would bridge back on Landa and Pozzovivo. Instead it happened, and it was when I took a breather after the finish that I realized that I had done it.”
“Team Sky did a great job today of setting the pace at the foot of the climb. We might be just six in the race, but six strong riders, and we also communicate very well together.”
“Today’s win gives me confidence for my Giro ambitions, but of course it’s still unexplored terrain for me, as I still have to take a GC top-10, and I will be competing against big favorites like Nibali and Quintana. For me it’s more about keeping up to my plan and focusing on myself at this point. The Tour of the Alps provides five great days of racing with long climbs, so I think this is the perfect preparation for the Giro d’Italia.”
“I went on recognition on Giro’s stage 18 and 19 before coming to this race, and they are both brutal stages indeed. After here, I will be heading home for some rest before tackling the Giro d’Italia challenge.”
“We are in the lead now, and we will try to defend the jersey from now to the end of the race. Tomorrow is another hard day, and a lot can still happen until Friday.”
The fourth stage of the Tour of the Alps will take the riders from Sudtirol back to Trentino over 165,3 km, from Bozen to Cles, Val di Non, the land of the past Trofeo Melinda. Two categorized climbs expect the riders: the Passo della Mendola and the Forcella di Brez, peaking at 34 km to go, with its fearful 10,2% average gradient. Funes gave its verdict, but there is still a lot to go in this Tour of the Alps.