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Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) claimed final victory at the Tour de Suisse after he overhauled leader Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the stage 8 time trial in Vaduz, which was won by Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl).
Two seconds behind Higuita at the start of the day, Thomas was strongly favored to divest the Colombian of the yellow jersey in the concluding 25.6km test. So it proved, as Thomas clocked the second-best time on the day, just three seconds behind Evenepoel.
Higuita had effectively lost the yellow jersey in the opening kilometers, but he limited his losses well to place 11th on the stage and secure second place overall, 1:12 behind Thomas and four seconds ahead of Jakob Fuglsang (Israel Premier Tech).
Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) overcame a bike change deep into the last kilometer to secure fourth place on general classification, while Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) capped the best climbing display of his career this week by moving up two spots to claim fifth overall.
Küng, the European time trial champion, had designs on stage victory here too, of course, but he had to settle for third place at 10 seconds from Evenepoel, who pitched his effort well on the out-and-back course.
Evenepoel was just under two seconds down on Küng at the midway point but he coped better with the headwind over the back end of the course to claim stage victory and put a different slant on a race where his general classification challenge ended sooner than anticipated.
“It was a very difficult week for me with quite some ups and downs,” Evenepoel said. “I’m just really proud I could finally win a WorldTour time trial because I was really close two times. To come first in front of two big champions is an honor for me and another step in my career.”
Thomas was even quicker than Evenepoel on the latter part of the course, though he fell just shy of stage victory. No matter, his focus was on the bigger picture.
Seven years ago, Thomas had begun the final time trial of the Tour de Suisse in a markedly similar position, second overall and expected to take the yellow jersey. While Thomas held up a part of that bargain by beating Thibaut Pinot in that final time trial, he was himself overhauled by the surprising Simon Spilak.
There would be no late upset on this occasion, however, as Thomas, riding what appeared to be a new Pinarello time trial bike, quickly put the overall title beyond the reach of Higuita and Fuglsang.
The 36-year-old began this race in the service of Adam Yates and Daniel Martínez, but he moved into a leadership after the Englishman was forced out with COVID-19. Thomas proceeded to deliver solid displays in the two toughest mountain stages before winning the race in the concluding time trial around the Liechtenstein capital.
“I was second back in 2015. I was second going into the TT there, but Spilak overtook me and I lost that by about five seconds, so it’s super nice to win here,” Thomas said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, especially after that narrow loss.”
Higuita, for his part, knew from the outset that his prospects of defending the yellow jersey were slim, but he put in a spirited display all the same to take 11th place on the stage, 1:17 behind Evenepoel.
“It was a very hard time trial and I knew winning against Thomas would be very difficult,” Higuita said. “I just went as fast as I could. I knew defending the jersey would be difficult, but I think this was still a good race for me and the whole team.”
How it unfolded
The COVID-19 cluster that forced Higuita’s teammate Aleksandr Vlasov out of the race while wearing the yellow jersey continued to have an impact on the final day of the Tour de Suisse with Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) among the non-starters after he tested positive for the coronavirus for the third time.
Four teams – Alpecin-Fenix, Bahrain Victorious, Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates – left the race en masse and there were only 77 starters in Sunday’s final time trial. The Tour de Suisse lost one more rider before the finish when Ilan Van Wilder (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) crashed out of the race on a roundabout.
The early pace-setters were first Chad Haga (DSM) and then Dylan van Baarle (Ineos), before Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) laid down his imposing marker, clocking an average speed of 54.021kph.
Daniel Martínez’s solid fourth place finish lifted him to eighth overall and suggested that his form was moving in the right direction ahead of the Tour. Bob Jungels, fifth on the stage and sixth overall, will be even more reassured by his most notable result since joining AG2R Citroën ahead of the 2021 season.
Elsewhere, Powless capped a fine week with 8th place, 59 seconds down on Evenepoel, while Fuglsang fell just short of moving ahead of Higuita in the overall standings. “It’s been a tough TDS and the heat didn’t make it any easier,” Fulgsang said. “I think I can only be happy. I attacked on several stages, and I was one of the only ones to do that. I tried to make the race hard, I tried to make the difference, but it wasn’t enough.”
The stage ultimately proved a tight three-way battle between Evenepoel, Thomas and Küng, with the Belgian emerging victorious. The overall title, on the other hand, was never really in doubt.
“Obviously, we lost our leader in Yates, which was unfortunate,” Thomas said. “Nut to rally and do what we’ve done was super satisfying.”
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