ORICA-GreenEDGE’s Michael Albasini sprinted to victory on the first road stage of the Tour de Romandie, ending a ten year drought for Swiss riders in their home country tour. Popping out from a reduced bunch with the finish line in sight, Albasini easily overtook Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), who was ahead of the bunch after a late race attack, en route to the win in Sion. It is the 13th victory for ORICA-GreenEDGE in 2014; the first for Albasini.
“I’m always really motivated for the Swiss races,” said Albasini. “Of course I want to show something when I’m racing at home. I’m really happy with the race today. It was a good win. It was important that I get some results out of the good shape I have now. It’s been ten years since the last Swiss rider won here, so I know the people here are also really happy about my win.”
Snow forced race organisers to shorten the opening road stage. The length of the stage was more than halved as the start was moved from Ascona to Brigerbad with the climb over Simplon Pass removed from the route. The category two climb that included the early slopes of the road leading up the Crans Montana ski station would prove the more decisive place on the 88 kilometre stage.
Despite the logistical challenges the changes to the stage presented, Albasini was happy to avoid the snowy mountain pass. While the shortened stage could have meant a bigger bunch at the finish, he remained confident in his ability to secure a result in Sion.
“If the stage had been longer, we would have ridden through the snow and rain,” said Albasini. “I was quite happy that we didn’t have to do that. I think it was a good decision to change the stage. It would have been really cold and also dangerous. It all worked out well for me, so I’m not going to complain.”
Two Swiss riders, Reto Hollenstein (IAM) and Silvan Dillier (BMC), were joined by Boris Vallee (Lotto-Belisol) in the early break. A cagey peloton never allowed the trio a long leash, bringing them back ahead of the stage’s only categorised climb. With the peloton intact, several riders attacked from the bunch in pursuit of the mountain points on offer but were brought back to the bunch over the summit.
“I actually felt really good all day,” said Albasini. “I never found myself in any difficulties. On the last climb, I was really comfortable and not over the limit.”
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) used the descent to slip away from the peloton. Well known for his downhill abilities, Nibali established a half-minute advantage over the peloton. It was Nibali’s bid for solo glory blew the race apart.
“When I saw there were not many guys left, I worked my way through the bunch,” explained Albasini. “I became quite confident at that point that I could get a good result out of the stage. It’s not exactly a lottery but when it’s not super controlled, a lot can happen. I knew I needed to react and be at the front. I managed that quite well, I think.”
“I was worried when Nibali attacked and went alone on the downhill,” added Albasini. “It was obvious that they wouldn’t let him go. There were too many guys riding the general classification that were interested in bringing him back. I was quite sure that he wasn’t going to ride to the finish alone.”
Cameron Meyer provided crucial support to Albasini in the finale. When the peloton overtook Nibali at the five kilometre mark, Meyer guided Albasini into position. It was a mutually beneficial effort as Meyer looked to protect his overall ambitions.
With bonus seconds for the win, Albasini jumps up to second overall behind prologue winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step). Five seconds outside the race lead, Albasini is tied on time with Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp) in third. Sixteenth overall overnight, Meyer sits in 12th place following stage one.