Stefan Küng was a favourite to win the stage 4 time trial Saturday, but even he was surprised that the fastest time in the race against the clock at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana would bring him more than a stage victory – the leader’s jersey.
The Groupama-FDJ rider started seventh in the general classification at the start line in Xilxes, and his win bumped Enric Mas (Movistar) from the GC lead, who is now in third by 36 seconds. It also gave Küng a six-second advantage over another Movistar rider, Nelson Oliveira, who is second in GC now with his second-place finish in the time trial.
“If I had been told at the start of the race that I would be in yellow after the time trial, I would have laughed,” Küng said in a team statement after the race. “But this is sport, anything is possible! You always have to believe in your chances. We now want to offer Arnaud [Démare] a last sprint and we have a very good lead-out train to help him. To finish with another victory and the yellow jersey would be perfect for the team.”
After the first intermediate sprint, Küng had a comfortable lead, which allowed him to trim the time he trailed Mas from 51 seconds to 30. The remaining seconds were closed and the tide seemed too change for Küng by the time the Spaniard passed the one-kilometre to go kite, suffering a flat tyre.
“Right after the intermediate point, I saw on TV that he [Mas] was starting to struggle. Maybe he started too hard. I would have preferred to take the jersey from him without something happening to him, but that’s sport and I’m happy to be in yellow,” recounted Küng.
The Swiss rider had a large lead over the field when he crossed the line. Portuguese rider Oliveira was the only other rider to come close to the winning time, falling short by 11 seconds. Mas would finish in 15th position, 1:27 back. It was the first victory of the season for Küng.
“The time trial was mainly headwind. It was an advantage for me because it made it more difficult and I was able to make the difference as a pure specialist. I did my best and I’m happy with my performance,” Küng said.
“I felt very confident considering how I had been going in the previous days. I knew I was able to win on my terrain. However, I still needed to execute and everything was done perfectly. As usual, the bike was prepared like a rocket. The staff did their part and then it was up to me to let the legs do the talking.”
The European and Swiss time trial champion scored the third victory in the five-day stage race for Groupama-FDJ, adding to the tally collected previously this week by Miles Scotson, who won stage 1, and Arnaud Démare, who sprinted to the top prize on stage 2. All three teammates placed in the top five of the 21.2km time trial that ended in Almenara.
“I wanted to give the maximum because I knew that by doing a good time, the GC win was still doable. When you have a team performance like today, it’s just proof that the job done by the team is paying off.”
The Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, which was rescheduled from its traditional calendar slot in February out of caution for the coronavirus pandemic, will conclude Sunday with a short, rolling 95.5km stage from Paterna to Valencia. With Küng in the leader’s jersey and Scotson ninth on GC, Thierry Bricaud, the team’s sports director, was encouraged for the closing day of racing.
“We really were hoping to win the stage with Stefan,” Bricaud said. “Our expectations are obviously really met at the moment, but we are not going to stop here. Knowing the riders, they have only one thing in mind for tomorrow: keep the jersey and go for the sprint. We will do everything to finish the week in style.”
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