Stefan Küng took out another Swiss time trial title, his fifth in a row, with even a puncture and bike change after ten kilometres not enough to end his reign as national champion in the race against the clock.
In what was a promising sign for the Groupama-FDJ rider ahead of the Tour de France and the Tokyo Olympic Games that Küng, despite the disruption, made it around the hilly 40 kilometre course in 48:28 which was 2:29 quicker than nearest rival Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) and 3:12 ahead of third placed Théry Schir (Swiss Cycling Academy).
"Today the objective was to defend the title but it was also a good test for the Tour and the Olympic Games, because the course was similar to what we will find in Tokyo,” Küng said in a statement. “I started well, I found a good rhythm but after ten kilometres I had a puncture of the front wheel. I changed bikes.”
The 27 year old came into the race as a clear favourite, not just because he’d already won the title four years running but the European time trial champion has also had a strong start to the year, wining the time trial and overall at Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and the opening time trial at the Tour de Suisse. His nearest rival that day was Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo) but his compatriot wasn’t racing in the contest for the Swiss time trial title and that may have made it easier for Küng to maintain his buffer despite the problems he faced, which didn’t end with the puncture.
“Unfortunately, five kilometres later, I had problems with my radio and my power sensor too,” said Küng. “I was really blind, I had no information. I had to ride by feel. Fortunately, I spend so much time on the time trial bike that I knew pretty much what I had to do. With a half-lap course, I could see my opponents and after 25 km, I caught Marc Hirschi who had started two minutes before me, and just before the end, I caught Gino Mäder who had started four minutes before. I knew I was in the right time.”
The goal for Küng may have been, first and foremost, to win the national jersey but with a number of climbs – which had a 2 to 4 percent gradient – the demanding course also became a good testing ground for the Tour de France, which starts on June 26, and the Tokyo Olympic Games time trial on July 28. His team wanted to see what Küng could deliver from a maximum effort in race conditions.
“The gap at the end is important because the goal was to do 50 minutes flat, so mission accomplished,” said Groupama-FDJ coach Julien Pinot.
The team and rider even took a positive perspective on the issues they had to deal with out on the course.
“In the end, it is better that these problems happen now than in another race like the Tour, the Olympics and the Worlds. You learn from it all again,” said Küng. “The feeling was good and I will rest a bit."
That rest means Küng will not be lining up to defend his road race title, which he won for the first time in 2020.
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