All week long, avoiding crashes was the order of the day. The BinckBank Tour was always likely to be decided on its final weekend, and for riders like Stefan Küng, the flat, fraught kilometres that led to this point were all about staying upright and remaining in contention.
After winning the stage 2 time trial, Küng rode impeccably for the remainder of the week to reach the pivotal stages in third place overall. And then, just as a bike race was breaking out, the BMC rider’s hopes of overall victory were dashed on the punchy finishing circuit in Sittard-Geleen on Saturday afternoon, when he went down in a crash with a little over 15km remaining.
By the time Küng mounted a replacement bike, there was little to be done, and he came home more than three minutes down on stage winner Gregor Muhlberger, dropping from third to 36th in general classification.
"I'm not entirely sure what happened in the crash. We were on a downhill right-hand corner and I think my wheel slipped, it’s hard to explain, but suddenly I was on the ground and unfortunately my bike was broken so the race for me was over," Küng said afterwards. "Thankfully I am OK, but it was a pity to lose a chance like I had at this race especially when you are feeling good."
Already winner of two stages at the Tour de Suisse in June, Küng was looking to sign off on his tenure at BMC with a maiden stage race victory as a professional. He confirmed at the beginning of August that he will ride for Groupama-FDJ in 2018, bringing an end to a six-year spell with BMC, beginning with their now-defunct development squad in 2013 and continuing with the WorldTour set-up since 2015.
"I needed a new challenge, I felt that since the beginning of the year," Küng told Cyclingnews earlier this week of his decision to move to Groupama-FDJ. "I think with Groupama, it’s a really nice fit. I speak the language really well, so that wasn't an issue. It's a great team, one that is growing with the arrival of the new sponsor, Groupama. They have good plans and I’m excited to be a part of their future. It’s a good move for me. It’s going to be a new challenge, a new team, a new philosophy and I’m looking forward to that next year."
Küng’s time trialling pedigree – he was European champion as an under-23 and won the world pursuit title in 2015 – invited obvious comparisons with his fellow countryman Fabian Cancellara from the very beginning of his professional career, and he has been part of BMC’s cobbled Classic unit since his debut season. After riding strongly in the service of Greg Van Avermaet these past two springs, Küng might have greater freedom of movement at Groupama-FDJ.
"Obviously, they have Arnaud Démare, who is a really fast guy and has proven himself in the Classics. I think we can build a double force because we’re not quite the same kind of rider," Küng said. "I’m a rider who needs to go earlier in the race if I really want to try to score a result or even win a race like that. I can take opportunities myself, but if not, I’m still there to give a hand to Arnaud. We can work together and take advantage of each other."
The uncertainty throughout the first half of the year over the future of the BMC team undoubtedly contributed to an exodus of talent from Jim Ochowicz’s squad, with Rohan Dennis, Tejay van Garderen and, it seems, Richie Porte all among those to depart for pastures new in 2019. In July, it was announced that CCC would step in to replace BMC as title sponsor for 2019, and the guaranteed survival of the team gave Küng pause for thought before he signed on the dotted line with Groupama-FDJ.
"I first wanted to be sure that the team had secured its future and then I'd make my decision," Küng said. "When the team finally announced a sponsor, I reconsidered because I hadn't agreed yet and I really wanted to give the confidence to Jim as he had a lot of confidence in me over the last years. But then finally, I kind of had the feeling that I needed to change and I'm happy with my decision."
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