Third time lucky. After attacking on the final climb of stage 1 and then recording a top-10 finish in the Budapest time trial, Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) rode home victorious on the summit of Mount Etna following a superbly calculated ascent in the Giro d'Italia on Tuesday.
Counter-attacking seven kilometres from the line from the remnants of a daylong breakaway, Kämna bridged across to stage leader Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) on the upper slopes, then easily outpowered the Spaniard in the sprint.
López claimed the overall lead, but Kämna's persistence paid off with his third victory of the season in a notable comeback since his time off the bike in 2021.
Sustained uphill efforts, as well as victories on mountainous stages, are something of a Kämna speciality. When he won stage 16 of the 2020 Tour de France ahead of Richard Carapaz, it came on a hard day through the Alps. In 2022, a late solo attack on the tough final climb of the Vuelta a Andalucia also netted the German a fine triumph on the race's hardest summit finish.
But fighting for victory on the 22-kilometre long climb on Mount Etna is a very different kettle of fish, and the 25-year-old recognised that it had been more touch and go to know when to make his move.
"I stayed for as long as possible in the main part of the breakaway, because it was windy and I didn't feel totally confident about staying out there alone," Kämna said.
"But then the gap on López was getting too big, I realised that if I was going to try and reach him I had to make a move, otherwise my chance would be gone. So I'm very happy it worked out."
Kämna said that riding the Tour of the Alps and winning there had given him a much greater level of confidence for the Giro d'Italia, where he was the first of the standout names to try to make a move on the final ascent to Visegrád citadel last Friday.
"Day by day, I was getting better and better in the Alps, feeling much better on stage 5, [when he placed third] than even when I won [on stage 3]. I was on a higher level than I expected myself."
Like Tom Dumoulin, other riders before him and a growing number of athletes from other sports, in 2021 Kämna needed time out to recover mentally and physically from the constant demands and expectations of the sport that he had competed in since the junior ranks. As Kämna, who already took one spell away from the sport in 2018, put it during the Tour of the Alps, "Everyone who ever goes near the edge should take a break."
Asked directly about why he had spent time away during his press conference, Kämna said simply "I was not feeling well, and I wasn't enjoying it. But now I'm happy to be back and racing again."
Kämna forms part of a strong Bora-Hansgrohe team for this year's Giro d'Italia, with three riders - Emanuel Buchmann, Jai Hindley and Wilco Kelderman - all going for GC and all in the front group of favourites on Tuesday, too.
Kämna said the stage win eases pressure considerably on his teammates, but he ruled out any chance that, despite being at just 39 seconds behind López, he would consider becoming the German squad's fourth GC man in the Giro.
"This Giro is definitely not about the overall for me, I just want to hunt for some more stages," he said. "Although I also want to support the team leaders as well as possible.
"I've had two opportunities now, so I'll probably step back for a while. But there will maybe be another further down the road."
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