Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) claimed victory on stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse, taking the overall lead of the race.
The Russian sprinted from a select group of four riders that emerged on the hilly circuit around Novazzano, beating Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) to the line as Jakob Fuglsang (Israel-Premier Tech) claimed the final spot on the podium.
Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) trailed across the line in fourth place, while the final member of the quartet, Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), who teed up the sprint for Vlasov, finished in a small group of riders who finished several seconds down.
With overnight leader Stevie Williams (Bahrain Victorious) dropped early in the stage, Vlasov moved into the yellow jersey thanks to bonus seconds.
The biggest development from a general classification perspective was Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) falling out of contention. The Belgian was dropped briefly on an uncategorised climb with 20km to go and then fell away for good on the final climb of Pedrinate, going on to lose more than two minutes.
The 190.1km stage from Ambri to Novazzano featured three laps of a punchy 33km finishing circuit based on the Pedrinate climb, which measured 2.4km at 8.2%. The terrain was bound to blow open the peloton but that job had already partly been done by the time the riders arrived on the start line. No fewer than 17 riders failed to report for the sign-on, with a COVID-19 outbreak taking out Ineos leader Adam Yates, three riders from DSM, and the entire Jumbo-Visma squad.
A sizeable bunch hit the final climb of Pedrinate with 10km to go, but there were only 15 riders left over the top as Israel-Premier Tech lit it up and Fuglsang attacked near the top. Thomas and Tom Pidcock were straight on it for Ineos but Dani Martínez was dropped again and leadership appeared to pass definitively over to Thomas.
A lull after the descent allowed more riders back in but Fuglsang soon launched another attack and got away, while Vlasov, Thomas and Powless emerged as a chasing trio, with Schachmann chasing further back. As the road kicked up again with 2km to go, Vlasov accelerated to make contact with Fuglsang and Thomas clawed his way back on. Another lull allowed Powless and Schachmann in, and they rode to the finish as a quartet.
Schachmann hit the front and led through the final bend before opening the taps with 300 metres to go. Fuglsang then hit the front but Vlasov eased past him and, despite being pushed all the way by Powless, had enough to hold on for the stage win and the yellow jersey.
In the overall standings, Vlasov leads with Fuglsang second at six seconds and Thomas in third a second further back. Andreas Kron (Lotto Soudal), Stefan Kung (Groupama-FDJ) and Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) are all within 16 seconds, before a bigger gap to Powless in seventh at 28 seconds. Felix Großschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe), Sebastien Reichenbach (Groupama-FDJ), and Andreas Leknessund (DSM) round out the top 10 as the only riders within a minute of Vlasov, while Evenepoel drops to 19th at 2:22.
How it unfolded
Details of the spate of abandons was still filtering through when the race rolled out of Ambri and kicked off. With an explosive downhill start. When the dust settled, there were five riders in the breakaway: Johan Jacobs (Movistar), Alexander Kamp (Trek-Segafredo), Silvan Dillier (Alpecin-Fenix), Anthony Turgis (TotalEnergies) and Claudio Imhof (Switzerland).
They built a big lead of nearly eight minutes by the first of the day's climb, the category-2 Monte Ceneri - 5.2km at 6%. By the summit, where Kamp took maximum mountains points, they'd lost a minute, and the gap continued to tumble on the subsequent flatter section of the route.
The breakaway then started to fragment on the approach to the finishing circuit, which would be covered twice in full. Dillier and Kamp emerged as the strongest riders and went over the first of the three ascents of Pedrinate, while Jacobs and Imhof were dropped and Turgis lagged in the middle. Behind, Williams' spell in yellow was over as he was dropped from the bunch.
The first crossing of the finish line followed with 55km to go, where Dillier and Kamp led by three minutes over a peloton that was just about to reabsorb the three dropped breakaway riders. They then swept around for the second ascent of Pedrinate, where Kamp was unable to live with Dillier's pace and the Swiss rider went solo. Behind, Ineos Grenadiers lifted the pace in the bunch, and they crossed the finish line for the second time 1:15 seconds down on Dillier with 27km to go.
Pedrinate was the only categorised climb on the circuit but there were some unmarked inclines, and Evenepoel's struggles became evident when he was dropped on one of them with 21km to go. He had teammates Fausto Masnada and Ilan Van Wilder to limit the damage and get him back after the descent, but the writing was on the wall.
The writing was also on the wall for Dillier, who, despite a mightily impressive effort, was caught with 14.5km to go. There were only a few kilometres to go before the Pedrinate, and the race once again kicked off on the steep slopes. Israel-Premier Tech took over from Ineos and lit it up through Krists Neilands and Hugo Houle. With 400 metres to the top, Fuglsang attacked and the group, already heavily thinned, exploded. Pidcock and Thomas were fully alive to the threat but plenty of big names were already struggling.
15 riders made up the front group on the descent but they started looking at each other on the flat, allowing more back in. Grosschartner launched the first attack of a tactical finale and when it was shut down by Pidcock, Fuglsang countered. The Dane went solo until inside 2km to go, with Vlasov, Thomas, and Powless sneaking clear in a chase group.
Vlasov had looked the strongest as he breezed across to Fuglsang, but the effort of his teammate Schachmann to get across gave Bora the numerical advantage in the finale, and Vlasov finished the job in style.
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