Thibaut Pinot and his Groupama-FDJ team had numerous attacks thrown at them on a punchy 134km stage from Chiusa to Lienz on Thursday, but the Frenchman held fast to the overall lead of the Tour of the Alps with one stage remaining.
The short, intense stage was fraught with threats to Pinot's lead in the race. After his teammates spent the day keeping a breakaway that included Ben Hermans (Israel Cycling Academy) - who began the stage only 2:02 behind on GC - from threatening, they had to control serious moves from Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates), Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida). The work eventually fell to Pinot himself.
"Today it wasn't my best day, and I had a hard time responding to the many attacks that came from my rivals," Pinot admitted.
"Pozzovivo, Lopez, Froome, Aru, are all very strong riders, all capable of attacking and making gaps, and none of them held back today."
Pinot was forced to chase on the final descent to Lienz from the Bannberg, not his favourite terrain. However, he kept his rivals in reach, and on the flat run-in, the group came back together with only stage winner Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) and George Bennett (LottoNl-Jumbo) still away.
Pinot finished 11 seconds down, in the group with Pozzovivo and Astana's Miguel Lopez - both at 15 seconds in the overall, and Froome, who sits at 16 seconds. Aru is in fifth, further behind at 50 seconds. Friday's final stage in Innsbruck features triple ascents of the Olympia climb, a small preview of this year's World Championships road race course, and is the final test of Pinot's ability to hold on for the Tour of the Alps victory.
"My advantage is still there, and only one stage is left. 15 seconds can be a lot, or very little, and tomorrow we will need a perfect race to bring this jersey home. It was my clear goal, now we have to achieve it for good."
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