Wednesday’s stage 1 win at the Tour de Romandie has given Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) a boost of confidence heading into the Giro d’Italia. That was the German sprinter’s takeaway after a thrilling stage win in which he powered past Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) in the finishing straight but then had to hold off Niccolo Bonifazio (Trek-Segafredo) at the line.
“I am very happy for getting this win, but also for having good legs today and staying with the peloton when Movistar and Orica-GreenEdge began to ride hard on the climb,” Kittel said after the stage. “The team was with me there and helped me find my rhythm. Then, in the final kilometers, I had four guys with me, and although it isn’t my regular team for the sprints, the guys did a fantastic job for which I can only thank them.”
Stage 1 at the Tour de Romandie was intended to start with immediate climbing, but race organisers were forced to shorten the route because of snowfall on the Col d’Etroits, the day’s first and most significant ascent.
The stage instead started in Mathod, reducing the length from 167km to 109km and leaving the day with only three Cat. 3 climbs: Arrissoules, Surpierre and between Vauderrens and Romont.
Movistar and Orica-GreenEdge went full gas on the last ascent to try and drop the sprinters, but Kittel made it over the top. From there, the field raced predominantly downhill for the final 10km toward the finish, where there was a short uphill drag to the line.
When the peloton caught the final breakaway rider and a bunch sprint looked imminent, Etixx-QuickStep went to the front in the final kilometres to keep Kittel in position and to discourage any attacks.
As the finish line neared, Albasini attacked first, but Kittel quickly caught and swept past the Orica-GreenEdge rider who was second on Sunday in the finale of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Kittel looked assured of victory, but with a late surge Bonifazio challenged him at the line.
“Albasini attacked with 400 meters left and I decided to go immediately and overtook him; then, after noticing Bonifazio came from behind, I sprinted to the line and got this victory, which gives me a lot of confidence for the Giro d’Italia,” Kittel said.