In a performance that echoed similarities to his 2017 Criterium du Dauhpine win, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) took a fine mountain stage at this year’s Tour de Romandie. The Dane attacked with roughly 15km to go on stage 4 into Sion and held off a late chase from the GC contenders to take his first victory of the season.
However, as impressive as Fuglsang’s late attack was, his ride until that point was just as crucial, and after crossing the finish line the Dane admitted to Cyclingnews that his tactics had been his strongest ally.
The Astana leader came into the key mountain stage over two minutes down on the race lead, and in 15th place overall. With yellow jersey Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) and second place Egan Bernal (Team Sky) locked in their own battle for the yellow jersey, Fuglsang looked to exploit an opening. His first move came after Bernal had blown the race apart on the lower slopes of the final climb of Les Collons.
The Colombian’s four vicious accelerations were closed down by Roglic on each occasion, and with 3km until the summit a regrouping had taken place. Fuglsang and UAE’s Rui Costa had made the juncture, and the pair duly slipped off the front as the GC contenders caught their breath. The move, however, was short lived, with Roglic and Bernal once again going toe-to-toe. By the time the pair had reached the summit they were clear, with Fuglsang dropped but riding at his own pace.
On the long descent into Sion, third place Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Costa made contact with Bernal and Roglic, with Fuglsang at nine seconds. The Dane took his share of risks but finally made contact, and at a key point, as the race flattened and then briefly climbed, he rose out of the saddle and accelerated away. The leaders were all caught out. Porte had just closed a gap, and Roglic and Bernal were only concerned with each other. Only Costa was obliged to react. However, when the chase did eventually start it came too late.
“It’s nice to win alone and win like this after going away,” Fuglsang told Cyclingnews as cycling photographers swarmed him at the finish.
“It was about tactics. Maybe I wasn’t the strongest in the group, but I could profit from the tactics that the other guys were riding to because they were looking at GC. That was my advantage today. I knew it was possible, but I didn’t know that the downhill was so easy for the rest of the way. Basically, it was difficult for the others to make a difference in that part, but the flat section in end had a quite strong headwind. When I hit that section with five kilometers to go and heard that I had 35-40 seconds, I thought, ‘OK, if I do a good pace and keep the power on then the win was possible’.
“When I first went away on the climb I wanted to go from distance. I thought I could profit because I wasn’t high on GC. Rui Costa was really strong, and of course Roglic and Bernal were flying. When they closed I couldn’t follow but I kept going with everything that I had, and then I managed to catch them on the downhill. There was a bit of looking and strategy, and I chose the right moment, coming from behind at the right moment on that little kicker.”
Fuglsang, now 33, has enjoyed a fine 12 months with a winning habit finally added to his already proven consistency. Last year’s Dauphine triumph – in which he won two stages and the overall – appeared to be a breakthrough for a rider who has always been on the cusp of major WorldTour victories, but never quite made it. Three top-10 rides in the Ardennes earlier this month proved that the form was there, but today, as he showed at the Dauphine, superior tactics won out.
“It’s a really nice feeling. It’s the second last day of the first part of the season for me. I’ve been feeling really good, and had really good shape but I didn’t get anything out of it in terms of victories. Coming into Romandie I was a bit tired after Liege, so to win like this, it’s really special. This was the plan from this morning but it’s one thing to plan, it’s another thing to make it work out. I realized that it would be up to Rui Costa to close, as he would probably be the fastest in the sprint.
“I had a long period before the Dauphine when I had no victories," he said. "This year I had good form but no victories. To end this part of the season with a victory is super nice and I’m very happy.”
There will be no Dauphine defense for the Dane. Next up is the Tour de Suisse, before another Tour de France challenge.