Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroën) claimed the first victory of his professional career when he soloed clear to win at San Martino di Castrozzo on stage 1 of the Tour of the Alps.
The Frenchman was part of the day’s early break and he managed to hold off the pursuit of the overall favourites on the shallow climb towards the finish, crossing the line five seconds clear of Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) and Romain Bardet (DSM).
When Bouchard dropped the last of his breakaway companions Ben Zwiehoff (Bora-Hansgrohe) near the summit of the Passo Gobbera, he had 25km to race and a lead of two minutes over the Ineos-led peloton.
That advantage shrank considerably after he passed the finish line in San Martino di Castrozzo for the first time with 13km to go, as Ineos and Bahrain Victorious led the pursuit and a brisk headwind complicated his task.
Eddie Dunbar’s long turn in the final 3km looked to have doomed Bouchard, as did two sharp accelerations from Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers) in the final 2km. Bouchard, however, managed his lead on the stiffest part of the climb and then held off the chasers as the road flattened out in the final kilometre.
Bouchard confessed afterwards that he had cast his mind back to his near miss at last year’s Giro, when he led into the closing metres atop Campo Felice only to be caught and passed by Egan Bernal on the final approach to the line.
“I think I realised I was going to win at 300 metres before the finish line. I thought of the Giro d’Italia last year, when I was caught by the leaders with 400 metres to go, but today I won,” said Bouchard.
“I knew that if you were in front on the descent off the last climb, you could hold your gap over the peloton. But on the final circuit, I had a lot of headwind and it was very hard. I just kept pushing and I went full gas on the last small climb with 4km to go. I had a little gap just before the finish line, so it was perfect.”
Time bonuses mean that Bouchard has a lead of 9 seconds over Bilbao in the general classification and 11 seconds over Bardet.
The bulk of the overall contenders came home five seconds behind Bouchard, including Porte, Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers), Michael Storer (Groupama-FDJ) and Miguel Ángel López (Astana Qazaqstan), though Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost), Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) conceded an additional four seconds when the group split in the closing metres.
How it unfolded
Bouchard was part of the day’s early break, which went clear 25km or so after the start in Cles, home of 1988 world champion Maurizio Fondriest. He was joined in the move by Zwiehoff, Vinicius Rangel Costa (Movistar), Mattia Bais (Drone Hopper-Androni), Asier Etxebarria (Euskaltel Euskadi) and Emanuel Zangerle (Tirol-KTM), and the sextet built a maximum lead of seven minutes over the peloton.
“I tried to attack on the flat, and I went away with six guys. Then, when we were in the breakaway, we all rode, and we took a lot of time,” said Bouchard.
As the winner of the king of the mountains title at both the 2019 Vuelta a España and the 2021 Giro d’Italia, Bouchard was the strongest climber by reputation, and his quality began to tell on the Passo Brocon, where only Zwiehoff and Bais could match his pace.
Etxebarria regained contact over the other side of the climb, but Bouchard resumed his forcing on the category 3 Gobbera, with Bais and Etxebarria quickly distanced on the lower slopes.
Zwiehoff, who made the switch from mountain biking to the WorldTour last season, put up fierce resistance before losing contact a kilometre or so from the top. He limited his losses to 10 seconds by the summit, but his hopes of catching Bouchard ended when he crashed on the descent.
Bais and Extebarria caught Zwiehoff soon afterwards, but their combined efforts were unable to make any inroads into Bouchard’s advantage, and they were caught by the peloton in the finale.
The bunch was whittled down considerably by Ineos’ pace-making in the finale, and they also had help from Bahrain Victorious, who were looking to tee up Pello Bilbao, an impressive sprint winner on the recent Itzulia Basque Country.
Dunbar produced a long, long turn on the unclassified climb towards the finish, slicing Bouchard’s lead to under 30 seconds. Jonathan Caicedo (EF Education-EasyPost) and Porte both made accelerations from the reduced chasing group, but neither man could get on terms with Bouchard.
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