It was no surprise to see Groupama-FDJ fighting it out in the break at the Tour de France – with GC hope David Gaudu out of contention and sprinter Arnaud Démare out of the race – however stage 12 may have just been a little too early for Stefan Küng to try and launch a redemptive fight back.
Küng made his way into the early break of 13 as the crosswinds blew on the 159 kilometre stage to Nîmes and then fought his way into a split of four that launched in the final 40 kilometres. He kept company with Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Imanol Erviti (Movistar) and Harry Sweeny (Lotto Soudal) until the final 15 kilometres when Sweeny put the pressure on during a climb. The time trial specialist couldn’t respond and while Politt and Erviti found their way back onto the Australian’s wheel a cramping Küng had little choice but to watch the podium positions ride away.
“After only thirty kilometres today, I felt like I was a bit empty,” Küng said in a statement. “I thought that everyone felt the same, but in the end I did not have anything left in my legs. I was at the limit. I just didn’t have enough energy today to be able to play for the win.”
Still the Groupama-FDJ rider, only one of four left in the race, held firm in fourth dropping well over a minute to the three lead riders but holding off the chase to come over the line eight seconds ahead of a group led by Luka Mezgec (Team BikeExchange).
“I held on, gave it my all and really tried everything. I fed myself very well during the stage, but if you don’t have energy from the very start, that is not a good sign. I started to have cramps and my body was just exhausted. I couldn’t do more. We do have limits and my body reminded me of that.”
The day in the break came after a difficult stage for the team, with the heat followed by the double ascent of Mont Ventoux taking a considerable toll on the overall hopes of Gaudu, who dropped from tenth to 15th on the general classification. Küng dropped back to try and help Gaudu get through that difficult day, which also saw teammate Miles Scotson abandon. The team now has every incentive to try and get in the break to hunt for stage victories, particularly as they lost sprinter Démare and lead out man Jacopo Guarnieri to the time cut on stage 9.
“I would have liked to win today,” said Küng “Unfortunately, I hadn’t recovered enough from the last few days. Let us not forget that we are on day 12 of a special and hard Tour, unlike any I have ever experienced. I knew it could be a good day for the break, so I went for it, but deep down I was empty”.
It’s not likely to be last time we see the European time trial champion, who came second on the stage five race against the clock, reaching for the top step of the podium at his fifth Tour de France.
“I won’t stop fighting to get that stage win,” the 27 year old said. “We lost our hopes for the general classification, but the Tour is not over yet. For me there is of course the time trial on the penultimate day. We’ll try again, but I think I will need a few days to recover first.”
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