The second stage of the Tour de Romandie was so freezing cold, snowy and wet, that the organisers moved the start to avoid the potentially slick descent from Champéry. It was a stage only a Swiss rider could win, and it was Stefan Küng who prevailed from the day's breakaway to win the stage to Bulle.
BMC Racing's directeur sportif Fabio Baldato was thrilled to see the result from the Swiss rider, who has battled illness and injury since his neo-pro season in 2015, during which he won another stage in Romandie.
"Stefan showed great condition yesterday and we knew that today would be hard, even harder than expected because of the snow and the rain," Baldato said. "It was unbelievably difficult for the guys.
"Stefan is used to the cold and rain and he is on home soil in Switzerland, so he was motivated and he was amazing. I'm really happy for Stefan because he has been chasing a victory like this since the beginning of the year."
After thawing out post-stage, Küng was able to look back on his struggles with a fractured vertebra and then mononucleosis in his neo-pro year and a broken collarbone and hip that kept him out of the Olympics last year, and see his progress.
"A lot things have happened and not good things," Küng said. "I had two really hard crashes with a long rehabilitation and then illness. I was always a little up and down, and I was struggling to show what I can do. I knew I could do it but I just couldn't finish it off, so it is a big relief for me to get this victory.
"I work hard all the time. I am a really ambitious person and if you are longing for success and always running behind, you lose patience and confidence. With this victory it is really nice to get a lot of this confidence back."
The 23-year-old was among the early attackers when the race finally got underway in Aigle, and went clear with three others after just 4km: Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Andriy Grivko (Astana), and Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal).
The relatively flat finish should have made it difficult for any breakaway to stay clear, especially when Armee and Veuchelen were distanced on the final lap with over 20km to go. But Küng, a former pursuit world champion, used his power to drive to the line, out-pacing Grivko 20 seconds ahead of the peloton.
"It's amazing. I am really happy. We talked about the possibility of today being a good day for the breakaway or a good day to try and make a move," Küng said. "The team then gave me the freedom to go for it. If you have this opportunity and you know the roads, I had the confidence in my condition and the weather was bad so it was the perfect day for me to try and do something."
The Trek-Segafredo team of race leader Fabio Felline had the breakaway at 4:40 on the day's only classified climb, but when LottoNl-Jumbo and AG2R La Mondiale started to help chase, the gap to Küng and Grivko plummeted rapidly.
"I was a little bit scared as not everyone was fully contributing so then I made a really good tempo on the climb and we were able to increase the gap," Küng said.
"From then on it was pretty fast and with a little bit of a tailwind over the last 10km. In my mind, I knew that Grivko was going to be the strongest in the end and I was confident in my sprint, so I knew that I didn't need to so something at that point. In the end, it came down to a sprint and I am really happy to take this win."
Riding in the breakaway was only one of the ways he coped with the freezing temperatures.
"It was so cold. In the beginning it was okay and then it started to rain before we hit the snow at the top of the last climb. It was like Winter Wonderland but we had to race our bikes. You can change gloves and clothes and so on but it is also hard to stay hydrated and to stay fuelled up on a day like today. After the finish it took me over half an hour to warm up, so I was actually glad I was in the breakaway. I had to ride and keep my body warm."
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