Team Sky tried different tactics for stage 2 of the Tour of the Alps, with Mikel Landa going in a strong late attack and Geraint Thomas waiting for the uphill sprint in Innervillgraten. Neither produced the results the British team was perhaps hoping for but showed they are ready for the higher mountains that arrive on stage 3 in the now snow-capped Dolomites after a brusque change in weather in Austria and northern Italy.
Thomas, like most riders in the peloton, praised the race organisers for cutting the opening 40km over the Brennero Pass that had been covered in overnight snow. He stayed well protected in the peloton for the rest of the stage, while Landa went on the attack on the St. Justina climb with 25km to go. The Basque rider was joined by Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani-CSF) and later by Damiano Caruso (BMC and they opened a lead of one minute. However, Astana and then FDJ and Cannonade-Drapac led a high-speed pursuit and a select group of riders came together to sprint it out on the rising finish.
Thomas was hoping to come through late as other riders suffered in the headwind finish but he was blocked for a while and could only watch as Rohan Dennis (BMC) kicked hard to win with is arms in the air. Thomas finished fifth, despite losing momentum.
“Mikel went on the steep climb with about 25k to go, and Astana had to ride, which was good for us,” Thomas explained after quickly riding on to the Team Sky bus to escape the near freezing temperatures at the finish.
“They got a good gap, Caruso went across as well, so it was a strong break. Unfortunately for Mikel they got caught with just under a kilometre to go.”
“For me, it was then a case of trying to get involved in the sprint. I wanted to gamble a bit and wait because I knew it was a strong headwind, so I thought I’d let the sprint start and then in the last few metres I could come around, but unfortunately when it kicked up I just got a bit blocked as Brent Bookwalter dropped back from leading out Rohan Dennis and lost all my speed, and I was just stuck then.”
The fight for overall victory begins on Wednesday
Weather permitting – because snow and temperatures of -8C are forecast for the summits of the climbs, the fight for overall victory at the Tour of the Alps will turn serious on Wednesday’s third stage from Villabassa to Funes in the heart of the stunning Dolomites.
The stage includes the lesser known but similarly tough Alpe Rodengo Zumis - 12.7km at 7%, coming after 100km and a long descent to the valley near Bolzano. The climb to the finish in Funes is 8.7km long but will surely shake out the overall contenders after the earlier efforts.
Thomas impressed on the Terminillo climb at Tirreno-Adriatico – finishing second to Nairo Quintana. He has since slimmed down even more and trained hard at altitude in preparation for the Giro d’Italia. He should be one of the strongest on the climb and seems ready for a fight.
“It’s all looking good for tomorrow - personally and as a team,” he said. “We’ve only got six guys here, but we’ve always got six guys at the end, so it shows that everyone is strong. We’ll get stuck in and see what happens.”
“My legs are feeling good. It’s always funny when the weather’s cold. The sensations you have aren’t always great. It’s the same for everyone, but you don’t get that fresh, floaty feeling. But I’m feeling pretty good. It’s a big, big day tomorrow. Hopefully, I’ll have good legs and we’ll really see what I can do on what should be a tough day.”