Kung: If you're in shape, you're in shape
Swiss rider hopes Volta ao Algarve time trial win augurs well for Classics
Stefan Küng's decision to join Groupama-FDJ after spending his entire career at BMC meant that the Swiss rider would face a raft of changes in 2019, from his racing schedule to his time trial bike. On the evidence of stage 3 of the Volta ao Algarve, the transition has been relatively seamless.
Although it was only his third race day of the season, Küng was the favourite to win the demanding 20.3km test on a route around Lagoa that seemed to defy ready definition, and he duly lived up to his billing.
In watery late afternoon sunshine, he hurtled around the parcours at an average speed just shy of 50kph to claim stage honours, 2 seconds ahead of Søren Kragh Andersen (Sunweb) and 5 up on Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-QuickStep). It was, by any metric, a fine maiden time trial of the year.
"I changed the team and so in the winter time we really took the time to adjust all the details, and I think we managed pretty well," Küng told Cyclingnews after the podium ceremony.
During his time at BMC, Küng tended to start his campaign in early February, but, following consultation with the coaching staff on his new team, he delayed the maiden race of his campaign until this week.
"We chose to have a different approach to the season. This is my first outing of the season whereas normally I would have started a little earlier," Küng said. "As I showed today, it's worked out really well. I was already happy with this team but this shows that I made the right choice, and I hope it can continue like this."
A first time trial on a new bike can be a discomfiting experience, and it was altogether novel experience for Küng, who was racing aboard BMC as far back as his under-23 career. The task of grafting his position onto a Lapierre bike was facilitated by a familiar set of Allen keys.
"For me, it was really good that my mechanic Jurgen Landrie came with me from BMC and that makes it easier because he knows exactly how I think and I feel," said the Swiss time trial champion. "He set up the bike perfectly and actually the transition was not that hard. I feel great on the new bike."
A year ago, Küng claimed third place on the corresponding stage, which took in precisely the same course in Lagoa. The winds that have buffeted Algarve for much of the week abated slightly on Friday afternoon, and the biggest challenge, he explained, came from the sheer variety of terrain that was packed into such a short time trial.
"The most difficult thing was that it had a bit of everything," Küng said. "There were climbs, it was quite technical but there were also some fast sections. so to put all this in one basket and perform over the whole time is never easy.
"I think maybe I held a little too much back in the beginning but in the end I was able to turn it around so I think I executed it pretty good so I'm happy with my performance overall. And when I compare it to last year, I was feeling better too at the end so that's also a step in the right direction."
Küng will form a double act with Arnaud Démare in the cobbled Classics this season, and both riders are starting their seasons in Portugal with an eye to the forthcoming Opening Weekend and the succession of Flemish races that follow. After serving notice of his condition with a solid display on the summit finish at the Alto da Fóia on Thursday, Küng felt his time trial showing was a further confirmation of his condition ahead of the Classics.
"In the end if you're in shape, you're in shape," said Küng. "I felt already yesterday that I was pretty good. This is a build-up race for me, it was good to have this really hard effort. I think it will boost my form even more so I think I will be ready there as well."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.