Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) spent more than 200km in the breakaway Friday at the Criterium du Dauphine but came up just short of the biggest win of his career when Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) beat him in a photo finish on the line in Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne.
The 25-year-old Austrian, who won stage 6 of the BinckBank Tour last year, joined Alaphilippe and CCC Team's Alessandro De Marchi in a three-rider move that slipped away from the bunch in the rainy early going of the 229km stage from Saint-Vulbas Plaine de l'Ain to Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne. The wet weather and the large general classification time gaps to the lead trio apparently dampened the spirits among the chasers, and the lead eventually ballooned up to more than 12 minutes over the eight categorised climbs on the day.
"The team gave me a chance to fight for a stage win today," Mühlberger said. "After 13km of racing a breakaway went up the road. We were a really small breakaway with only three riders, but we worked really good together and were able to open up a huge gap."
The winner on the day would clearly come from the lead trio, and the attacks for final victory started in earnest in the final 10km when both Alaphlippe and Mühlberger tried to get away. De Marchi went out in a move as well, but he was quickly countered and was then unable to match the other two over the top. From there, Mühlberger and Alaphlippe continued to try and dislodge each other, but the stage win would come down to the final two-up sprint.
"In the last 15km the attacks were flying, but I was able to counter every attack and held Alaphilippe and De Marchi under control," Mühlberger said. "Finally, just us two battled for the victory."
Mühlberger jumped first into the headwind sprint and looked like he might deny the Frenchman his 10th win of the season, but Alaphilippe found one final surge for the line when the Austrian appeared to run into a wall as they three their bikes for the line. After several tense moments of indecision, the race jury declared Alaphilippe the winner on the day. De Marchi crossed the line 22 seconds later for third, while the bunch came in more than six minutes back.
"In the finale, I missed only some centimetres to Alaphilippe," Mühlberger said.
Bora-Hansgrohe sports director Enrico Poitschke said the plan at the start of the day was to get Mühlberger in the break.
"First, we were unsure about such a small breakaway, but as the gap increased, we knew the winner would come out of this group," Poitschke said. "At the beginning, Sam [Bennett] tried to follow but decided to stay in the peloton then. We kept an eye on Alaphilippe, we knew he would be the guy to beat. Gregor did everything right, he rode such a strong race. To lose by millimeters is such a pity, but he will have more chances to come."