The Ineos Grenadiers have dominated the Tour de Romandie standings after sweeping the top three spots in the opening stage but lost the lead of the race when prologue winner Rohan Dennis crashed on a descent inside the final 15km of a cold and rainy stage 3 in Estavayer on Friday.
Dennis came down on a slick, technical descent of the Châbles out of view of the cameras but was seen riding to the finish with a big hole in his shorts. According to the team, he fell on the same descent that breakaway rider Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) suffered a dramatic crash after hitting the white paint in a bend and losing traction with 12km to go.
While Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte held on to second and third places overall in the standings, the team lost the lead to solo attacker Marc Soler (Movistar), who opened up a 22-second gap over the final climb to move into the lead by 14 seconds over the Ineos pair.
"We controlled it well, had one climb to go, and then on the descent before that Rohan crashed," Thomas said. "I was able to avoid him and stayed upright. I was at the back of the peloton which split a bit on the descent – so I had to make a little effort to get back to the front as we started the climb. Then there were a few attacks, but I got up there as easy as I could, trying not to do too much. It was a solid day for sure."
The 2018 Tour de France winner looked on the bright side of the team giving up the race lead ahead of the queen stage to the Thyon 2000 ski station on Saturday.
"Obviously we don't have to ride tomorrow which is a bonus for the other guys in the team. We'll leave it to Movistar to control and it will likely come down to the last climb. We'll see how the legs are there, and obviously we've still got me and Richie up there. It's all to play for."
Porte, third in last year's Tour de France, expressed his regret that his compatriot crashed after working to control the race in the past two stages.
"Rohan, as he showed yesterday, is a huge team player," Porte said. "If he was there he would have controlled things and he was already doing a job. So it's a massive shame but it speaks volumes about the guy.
"G and I were there in the final and everybody was looking at us – I guess that's just how it is. Today wasn't a disaster but it could have gone a little bit better. Tomorrow is a new day and I think it suits us well."
The 161km stage to Thyon goes over two category 1 climbs before finishing at 2,090 metres in altitude. Organisers moved the start two hours earlier as temperatures are expected to be in the single digits with light snow forecast for the late afternoon.
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