Michael Albasini took his third stage victory at the 2014 Tour de Romandie in a three-up sprint, beating Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) to the line. The trio were part of an early five rider breakaway that formed shortly after the first ten kilometres on stage four. The win is the fifth this week for ORICA-GreenEDGE and the 20thprofessional victory for Albasini. Nine of those wins come during Albasini’s tenure with the Australian outfit.
“I was not counting,” said Albasini, who seemed surprised to learn that he had reached a career milestone. “It’s a nice number, but I’m always watching for the next one. The 19th or the 20th or the 21st – it doesn’t matter. I’m just happy to win.”
Jean-Marc Marino (Cannondale) and Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r La Mondiale) joined Albasini, Bakelants and Voeckler up the road on the opening lap of the 30 kilometre course. The penultimate day of racing included six times round the circuit that began and ended in Fribourg. The lumpy loop included one category three ascent.
“It was actually Albasini who put it out there that it would be great to have a guy in the break today,” said Sport Director Neil Stephens. “ ‘I’m really eager to go into the break,’ he said. We were all going to work together to put Albasini, Nino [Schurter], Christian [Meier] or Cameron [Meyer] into the move.”
“It was a really fast and really aggressive start,” Stephens added. “It wasn’t like a chess game where there was one move and then a response. It was one attack and then another attack and then another attack – consistent attacking for awhile. The ones that were the first to get a gap were the five that we saw go away.”
Fifty kilometres into the stage, the escape group had stretched out their advantage a bit beyond the six minute mark. The gap would hover there for the next hour. Steadily but very slowly the gap began to fall in the second half of the stage.
“Everybody was working really well together,” said Albasini. “We worked out how we were going to ride and everybody committed to the breakaway. We had to keep it going because we knew it could be quite close at the end.”
“That was a group of good bike riders,” Stephens added. “I was confident they were gauging their efforts. We knew there would pick up the chase at the end, and they saved some of their energy for a final push to the line.”
At the start of the sixth and final lap, Team Sky controlled the pace at the front of the bunch. The gap had fallen to 3’28. In an attempt to shut down the move, Lampre-Merida, Tinkoff-Sax and Trek Factory Racing all sent riders to the front before the final ascent of the categorised climb. As the chase heated up so too did the pace in the breakaway
“Bakelants made an acceleration on the last climb that separated us from the other two guys,” explained Albasini. “It was actually a bit unnecessary how hard he rode up there. It put everybody in the red. It was a little risky.”
The peloton overtook Marino (Cannondale) and Vuillermoz, but they were unable to bridge the distance to the remaining three leaders. A crash mid-pack briefly disrupted the chase, benefiting the breakaway. Albasini led the trio under the flamme rouge with a 24” advantage over the bunch.
“In the last few kilometres, I was doing the work,” said Albasini. “I knew I would have to ride from the front because there was no room for playing games and watching each other. They were never going to let me on their wheel, so I would have to lead out the sprint from the head of the group. I closed out one side, and I was controlling attacks.”
Two hundred metres from the finish, Albasini opened his sprint. Although both Bakelants and Vocekler jumped to respond, they were unable to match Albasini’s powerful acceleration. He pumped his fist in the air as he crossed the finish, proudly delivering another Swiss victory at home.
“I knew that I could do the sprint from 200 metres,” said Albasini. "When I started, the other guys had to make up my bike length, so I had an advantage that way. I’m also not that slow in the sprint. I knew it would work out well for me.”