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Albasini makes it into a very strong 5-rider breakaway that holds off the peloton, and finally beats Voeckler and Bakelants in the sprint to take his third win in the race

Photo: Orica GreenEdge












03.05.2014 @ 18:09 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) is unstoppable in the Tour de Romandie and today he added a third victory to his palmares in just 5 days of racing. After having won two bunch sprints earlier in the race, he made it into the breakaway in today's stage and finally held off Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Jan Bakelants (OPQS) in the final dash to the line while Simon Spilak (Katusha) defended the lead on the eve of the final time trial.


Michael Albasini has had a slow start to the season but it is a well-known fact that when the Swiss hits his peak form he really gets the ball rolling. That's certainly the case in this year's Tour de Romandie as he added a third stage win to his palmares in today's fourth stage of the race.


In the first two stages, Albasini had stayed calm in the bunch and counted on his fast finish to take the win but today he chose a different strategy. With the final road stage of the race taking place on a very lumpy circuit that was tailor-made for attacking racing, the Swiss joined the breakaway after a very fast start to the stage.


It was testament to the toughness of the course that it was a formidable escape that finally took off. Joining Albasini were Thomas Voeckler, Jan Bakelants, Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r) and Jean-Marc Marino (Cannondale) and the peloton made a big mistake by allowing such a formidable break to get a massive lead of almost 6.30.


Despite the combined efforts of Giant-Shimano, Trek, Lotto Belisol and Lampre-Merida who all had their eyes on a sprint finish, and GC teams Sky and Katusha, they never managed to catch the break and fell 9 seconds short at the end. Up ahead, a strong attack from Bakelants on a steep 11% ramp 10km from the line spelled the end for Marino and Vuillermoz and so it was down to Albasini, Voeckler and Bakelants when they headed into the final kilometres.


Despite Albasini being clearly the fastest rider, none of his fellow escapees tried to attack, with the exception of a little dig from Bakelants who stopped his efforts immediately. It was left to the strong Swiss to lead the group for the final 2km as Voeckler and Bakelants both refused to take more turns.


The expected attacks never materialized and with 250m to go, Albasini launched his sprint from his front. From there, the outcome was never in doubt as his companions could do nothing more than stay in their positions, with Voeckler taking second and Bakelants third.


9 seconds later Davide Appollonio (Ag2r) beat Anthony Roux (FDJ) in the sprint for fourth and was left wondering what might have been if his team had contributed to the pace-setting after his teammate Vuillermoz had been dropped.


All the main contenders finished safely in the bunch and so Simon Spilak defended his narrow 1-second lead over Chris Froome (Sky) ahead of tomorrow's decisive 18.5km time trial in Neuchatel. The course is mostly flat but has a solid climb and subsequent descent at the midpoint, making it a mixed affair, and it will bring the Tour de Romandie to a spectacular and exciting close.


A circuit race

After yesterday's big queen stage, the Tour de Romandie continued with a very lumpy circuit race in Fribourg. The riders took on a 173.1km stage that consisted a shortened opening circuit of 28.1km and 5 laps of the full 29km circuit. The circuit had a small category 3 climb that offered points for the KOM competition at the final three passages, and a short, steep 500m cobbled ramp with an 11% gradient that preceded the final 10 descending and flat kilometres back to the finish in Fribourg.


After yesterday's rainy stage, the riders were pleased to get their race underway under more pleasant weather conditions but two riders were absent from the start. Prologue winner Michal Kwiatkowski (OPQS) decided to finally put an end to a long, hard spring campaign after losing lots of time in yesterday's stage while one of the favourites for the stage, Moreno Hofland (Belkin), had fallen sick overnight.


A strong break takes off

The lumpy circuit was expected to suit an attack and so it was no surprise that the race was off to a very aggressive and fast start. Several riders tried to go clear in the first 10km but the fast peloton shut everything down.


At the 15km mark, the elastic snapped when a very strong 5-rider breakaway took off. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), double stage winner Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE), Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r), Jean-Marc Marino (Cannondale) and Jan Bakelants (OPQS) took off and as the peloton slowed down, they were already 3.31 ahead at the 18km mark.


A strange incident

At the first passage of the finish line, the escapees were 3.54 ahead but the gap continued to grow and at the 44km mark, they were 6.14 ahead. At this point, the escapees followed a race vehicle that took the wrong way and this saw them take a shortcut and miss a small climb. As a consequence, they gained an extra 1.30 but the race was neutralized to bring things back to order.


Thomas Voeckler had started the stage just 6.07 behind Spilak on GC and so the early work was left to Katusha. They got some assistance from Sky at the 50km mark and those two teams combined forces to keep the gap between 6.00 and 6.30 for most of the day.


The gap comes down

As Vuillermoz beat Voeckler,  Marino and Albasini in the first KOM sprint, the gap gradually started to come down and reached 5.40 at the 106km mark. In the first intermediate sprint, Vuillermoz was first across the line ahead of Albasini and Voeckler.


Marino led the escapees over the top of the climb for the penultimate time and at that point the gap was down to 4.45. In the peloton, however, it was only Giant-Shimano doing the work, with Albert Timmer carrying all the workload.


More teams start to chase

Heading onto flatter terrain, Timmer got some assistance from teammate Tobias Ludvigsson and a Trek rider but as they hit the steep ramp for the penultimate time, it was again left to the lone Dutchman. However, he got some welcome help from Katusha and Sky as Pavel Brutt, Sergei Chernetskii and Luke Rowe all started to take turns.


The gap had now come down to 3.25 but in the final 10km back to the finish, they failed to make it further down. Jesse Sergent (Trek) joined them on the front and as Lotto Belisol also added Boris Vallee to the team of chasers, it came down to 2.50 with 25km to go.


Lampre-Merida up the pace

Giant-Shimano, Sky and Katusha had now stopped chasing but Roberto Ferrari was feeling well and so his Lampre-Merida teammates Nelson Oliveira, Winner Anacona and Manuele Mori joined Vallee and Sergent on the front. That made a difference as the gap was down to 1.40 when Marino led Albasini and Vuillermoz over the top of the first climb for the final time.


Up the slopes, it was Anacona setting a brutal pace in the peloton that caused the peloton to splinter to pieces. Sprinters like Alexey Tsatevich (Katusha), Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano), and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) were all spotted suffering at the back but made it over the top with the best.


Bakelants makes his move

Anacona and David Lopez (Sky) were driving the pace until Tinkoff-Saxo hit the front with Nicolas Roche, Edward Beltran, Pawel Poljanski and Rafal Majka. Their action failed to make a difference and so IAM took over with Reto Hollenstein.


The battle for position was now fierce while Sander Armee and Silvan Dillier started to chase for Lotto Belisol and BMC. Up ahead, the escapees had hit the steep ramp and this was where Bakelants made his move.


The break splits up

The Belgian rode hard up the climb and Marino and Vuillermoz both fell off the pace. Albasini stayed glued to his wheel though and Voeckler also just made it over the top with the pait.


Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) led the peloton up the climb but no one dared to attack on the slopes. Instead, Mathias Frank (IAM) made a move on the descent but Katusha quickly shut the GC threat down.


A big crash

Yury Trofimov (Katusha) and Lopez kept the pace high until Ludvigsson went back to work for Giant-Shimano as Mezgec had made it over the climbs. Just in that moment, a big crash brought down fast finishers Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) and Danilo Wyss (BMC) as well as Tony Martin (OPQS) and Peter Velits (BMC).


Mezgec was held up behind the crash but rejoined the group and so Giant continued to ride hard on the front. With 5km to go, the gap was still 50 seconds though and so it seemed likely that the break would stay away.


Albasini stays calm

Giant-Shimano didn't get any help and so the gap was still 40 second with 2km to go. Katusha took over to keep Spilak safe but it seemed to be too late for the sprinters.


With 1.5km to go, Albasini didn't get more help from his fellow escapees. Just after passing the flamme rouge, Bakelants made the expected attack but as Albasini was straight on his wheel, he stopped his effort immediately.


Albasini went back to the front while Bakelants slotted into third and that's how it stayed all the way to the line. When the Swiss launched his sprint 250m from the line, he easily held off both of his companions while Appollonio's sprint win was only good enough for fourth.



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