Tour de Suisse: Thibaut Pinot claims stage 7 victory

Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) soloed to victory on stage 7 of the Tour de Suisse as Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) moved into the yellow jersey on the climb to Malbun, but Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) is within touching distance of overall victory ahead of Sunday’s final time trial.

There were two races within a race on the final mountain stage of the Tour de Suisse, with Pinot emerging victorious from the day’s early break with a savvy ride on the hors categorie climb to the finish, while Higuita and Thomas distanced overnight leader Jakob Fulgsang (Israel Premier Tech) after the yellow jersey group fragmented in the finale.

Pinot bided his time at the base of Malbun before catching and passing fellow escapees Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Qazaqstan) and Ion Izagirre (Cofidis) in the final 3km to claim victory, 25 seconds ahead of Oscar Rodriguez (Movistar).

The crux of the action in the GC battle also took place in the final 3km after Daniel Martinez (Ineos) had whittled the yellow jersey group down to its bare bones. By the time Martinez swung off inside the last 2km, the top three on GC – Fuglsang, Higuita and Thomas – were the last men standing. Higuita, the weakest time triallist of the three by reputation, didn’t need a second invitation to attack, and he immediately danced clear.

Thomas allowed Fuglsang to lead the chase for the next kilometre or so before he launched an acceleration of his own on the final approach to the line. That searing effort distanced Fuglsang and brought him within sight of Higuita, though not close enough to seize the yellow jersey.

Higuita, who placed 4th on the stage, came home 11 seconds ahead of Thomas and 29 up on Fugslang, which was enough to lift him into yellow. The Colombian will start the final time trial in Vaduz on Sunday with a lead of 2 seconds on Thomas and 19 on Fuglsang, while Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) is now 1:16 off the pace in fourth.

Ineos and Israel Premier Tech had found common cause through the day in controlling a sizeable early break that contained almost a quarter of the remaining riders in this Tour de Suisse, but there was not the same collaboration between Fulgsang and Thomas.

“Of course, I expected that somebody would try something, but I hoped the three of us would go a little longer. But then Higuita attacked, and Geraint was just sucking my wheel,” Fuglsang said. “I did as much as I could to try to keep Higuita within reach.”

Thomas, for his part, reckoned that he had launched his late pursuit of Higuita a little too soon, but he maintained his rhythm to the line to put himself in the box seat to claim overall victory in Vaduz.

“I just kind of went after Higuita a bit too far out. I kind of blew my tits a bit then. After such a long effort, I kind of misjudged how long 500m would take,” Thomas said. “But I’m in a good position and I think it’s all to race for tomorrow.”

Pinot's triumph

After a cluster of COVID-19 cases saw four teams leave the Tour de Suisse en masse and reduced the peloton to little more than 80 riders, there was some trepidation ahead of the start in Ambri. Three riders – Quentin Pacher (Groupama-FDJ), Marco Haller (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Sander Armée (Cofidis) – were non-starters, but the show went ahead.

The downhill opening made for a rapid early pace, and it barely relented when the road levelled out, as there was a flurry of attacking ahead of the category 1 Lukmanierpass, where a break of 19 riders forced its way clear, with Pinot among them.

Pinot’s teammate Lewis Askey helped to tee up an attack from the Frenchman on the upper reaches of Lukmanierpass, which only Clément Berthet (AG2R Citroën) could initially follow, and that effort helped to stretch the break’s lead over the bunch out beyond seven minutes.

The race settled into a pattern over the other side of the Lukmanierpass, where Pinot and Berthet were joined by twelve others: Mathieu Burgaudeau (TotalEnergies), Clément Champoussin (AG2R Citroën), Nicolas Prodhomme (AG2R Citroën), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Qazaqstan), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco), Ion Izagirre (Cofidis), Sylvain Moniquet (Lotto Soudal), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Óscar Rodríguez (Movistar), Fausto Masnada (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Ilan Van Wilder (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) and Gavin Mannion (Human Powered Health).

Burgaudeau spent much of the afternoon as the virtual race leader, but the pace-making of Ineos – Luke Rowe in particular – and Israel Premier Tech behind gradually whittled down the break’s sizeable advantage over the category 3 ascents of Flims and St Luzistieg, which brought the race into Liechtenstein.

At the foot of the hors categorie ascent to Malbun, the leaders had 3:30 in hand on the bunch and it was clear that the stage winner would come from their number. Izagirre struck out early, first in the company of Lutsenko and then alone, and he looked every inch the stage winner when his lead yawned out to 35 seconds.

Pinot ploughed a lone furrow as third man on the road for much of the climb, battling grimly to get back on terms, but he found fresh momentum when he eventually caught and passed Lutsenko. When a now flagging Izagirre looked over his shoulder and spotted Pinot, he couldn’t help but shake his head in resignation, and the Frenchman accelerated past him with 2km to go to claim his first WorldTour victory since he won atop the Tourmalet on the 2019 Tour de France.

“It was very hard, very long and very hot,” said Pinot, who will go on to the Tour with renewed confidence. “I had to go in red early on to get away. That was a risk but I think it was the right tactic.”

Further down the mountain, Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) laid down the early tempo on behalf of Higuita, before Martinez took over and continued the refining process. Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), the resilient Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) and Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) were eventually burnt off, leaving the top three overall to fight out the yellow jersey.

“I’m up against a time trial specialist and it will be a very difficult time trial tomorrow,” Higuita said. “I’ll try my best.”

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Barry Ryan
Head of Features

Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.

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