Bradley Wiggins (Sky) continued his trail-blazing 2012 season to become the first British winner of the Tour de Romandie. Despite losing the yellow jersey on the penultimate day, with a final ITT and only 9 seconds between himself and Rabobank’s Luis-Leon Sanchez, it seemed that the race was Wiggins’ to lose.
The winner’s jersey was a fitting belated birthday present for Wiggins – 32 on Saturday – and in his after-race press conference, he talked about just how far he has come as a rider:
It was a true test of a GC rider; it had a bit of everything in it plus a mechanical for myself. I’m pleased with the way I handled that moment because a few years ago I might have thrown my toys out of the pram and chucked my bike down the ravine! It was a good test for the bigger races coming up and I’m delighted.
Team Sky demonstrated their tactical nous, their strength and depth in numbers and their versatility in stage racing with a commanding performance all week. Other teams are certainly taking note and, even as my fingertips pound the keyboard, team tactics are surely being revised. The next test will be Wiggins’ defense of the Criterium du Dauphine in June.
Thanks to his presence in Saturday’s breakaway, Petr Ignatenko (Katusha) took both the sprints and mountains’ jerseys, Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Barracuda) was the best young rider and second overall while Sky won the team classification.
Prologue: Lausanne, 3.34km individual time trial
Geraint Thomas (Sky) took his first road race victory of the season when he produced the fastest time of 3:29 in the Lausanne prologue [blink and you’d have missed him – Ed]. Demonstrating his record-breaking pursuit skills, he was fortunate to leave the starthouse while it was still dry and his lead was never challenged.
Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Nissan) was second – five seconds behind Thomas – and Mark Cavendish (Sky) rounded out the podium.
The GC contenders raced in the rain and, with their eyes on bigger prizes, many sensibly took the course cautiously. Likewise, noted time-triallists, such as last year’s prologue winner Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) played it safe, as did Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) all posting very similar times in the rain-slicked conditions.
Stage 1: Morges to La Chaux-de-Fonds, 184km
Paris-Nice winner Bradley Wiggins (Sky) surprised everyone in Stage 1 by taking the bunch sprint ahead of Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Paolo Tiralongo(Astana). An astonishing result, given that Wiggins had punctured with 20km to go.
With race leader Thomas dropping off the back of one of the climbs, the yellow jersey passed to Wiggins, with teammate Michael Rogers in second and Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) in third.
Initially, the stage seemed to play into the hands of the sprinters’ teams with the gap to an early breakaway quartet being controlled by Sky but, as the gradient kicked up, counter-attacks from the peloton forced up the pace and the sprinters were shelled out the back.
The attacks continued but the effort of bringing each one back split the peloton, leaving a leading group of a dozen riders when Wiggins had his untimely puncture and had to fight his way back to the front on the rapid descent of the final classified climb of the day. With just 2km to go, Wiggins shut down the last attack, sat back and then surged again to leave everyone trailing in his wake. After the stage he confirmed:
I went a bit early and had to sit down to rest for a bit and then went again but it was good to get the win! I want to win Romandie, that’s for sure. I’ll take what I can every day and it’s really nice to win a sprint like this because normally I only ever really win time trials.
Stage 2: Montbeliard (France) to Moutier, 149km
Day three sprung another surprise in the form of Jonathan Hivert (Saur-Sojasun), who beat Rui Costa (Movistar) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) in an uphill drag finish.
Sky again controlled the peloton, allowing Lars Bak (Lotto-Belisol) and Christian Meier (GreenEDGE) to get away fairly early on but their lead was never allowed to threaten Wiggins’ yellow jersey. As the gradient rose steeply on the final climb of the day, the twosome ran out of steam and were overtaken by pink mountains jersey wearer Fabrice Jeandesboz (Saur-Sojasun) and Peter Stetina (Garmin-Barracuda).
Sky kept control of the pace, with BMC and GreenEDGE helping reduce the duo’s lead. At they raced towards the final short ascent, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Barracuda) was in the lead but he was overtaken by the leading trio in the race for the line.
Stage 3: La Neuveville to Charmey, 157km
Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) went two better on Stage 2’s third place and sprinted to victory – and a ten-second bonus – to put him within a single second of the yellow jersey. The Spanish time-trial champion rider was the fastest of a large group at the end of a tough climb on the day’s lumpy stage. Second place Gianni Meersman (Lotto-Belisol) protested in vain that he’d been impeded by the Spaniard; Astana’s Paolo Tiralongo was third.
Five men escaped early on in the stage: Matt Brammeier (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Gatis Smukulis (Katusha), Leigh Howard (GreenEDGE), Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto-Belisol) and Anders Lund (Saxo Bank). The group’s lead of over five minutes was whittled down first by Sky along with Lampre-ISD, Garmin-Barracuda and Rabobank. Although Smukulis gave it a go on his own, the bunch came back together with less than five kilometres remaining.
There were a number of attacks on the run-in including a dangerous one from David Zabriskie (Garmin-Barracuda), Simon Spilak (Katusha) and Roman Kreuziger (Astana), and then Janez Brajkovic (Astana), but Sky and Rabobank closed the door on them all; the latter setting Sanchez up for the stage victory.
Stage 4: Bulle to Sion, 184km
Back-to-back victories for Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) on the fourth and toughest stage, allowed him take the leader’s jersey, thanks to those precious bonus seconds. Sanchez was the fastest of the leading group after a day’s very aggressive riding, finishing ahead of Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) and Branislau Samoilau (Movistar). [Doesn’t his name sound like a type of sausage? – Ed].
The stage’s breakaway numbered six riders and included Johann Tschopp (BMC Racing) but as he was seen as a threat to the overall win for Wiggins, Sky kept the break on a short leash. Tschopp, Petr Ignatenko (Katusha) and Guillaume Levarlet (Saur-Sojasun) slipped away on the penultimate climb, and were joined on the day’s final climb to St Martin by a group including Peter Stetina (Garmin-Barracuda), new Dad Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Rui Costa (Movistar) and Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha).
The attacks continued and close to the summit, Mikel Landa (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Nocentini plus his AG2R La Mondiale teammate John Gadret, Jesus Hernandez (Saxo Bank) and Roman Kreuziger (Astana) escaped, only to be reeled in on the descent.
With just 11km to go, a leading dozen, which included race leader Bradley Wiggins, broke free but with the orange, white and blue Armada of Rabobank in hot pursuit, the peloton came together five kilometres from the finish.
While Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Andreas Kloden (RadioShack-Nissan) and Fabrice Jeandesboz (FDJ-BigMat) attempted to break away, BMC pulled everything back together only to be passed by Sanchez to take his second stage victory. He commented afterwards on his chances of retaining the jersey:
That will be very difficult. It’s a time trial with a first-category climb. Short and steep. I have no idea to whose advantage it will be. Bauke will do a recon today. I will do that Sunday morning. We will only decide then if I am going to take my road bike or the time trial bike. Four of our riders are very well-positioned in the overall. Of course, I do want to win this race but when you already have two stage victories under your belt, a good position in the overall is great too. I still think Wiggins is the favourite but there are more possibilities. The morale is very high and I will try to win.
Wiggins finished safely in the bunch, losing just 9 seconds to Sanchez, leaving the race finely poised for Sunday’s concluding time trial.
Stage 5: Crans-Montana 16.24km individual time trial
As anticipated Bradley Wiggins (Sky) emerged the victor of both the stage and the overall – despite a slipped chain, which required a bike change mid-way through the ride. Wiggins’ only real competition came in the form of young American Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Barracuda) who, as predicted by team manager Jonathan Vaughters on Twitter, turned in a blazing performance. Wiggins’ teammate Richie Porte finished third at 17 seconds down.
Many of the day’s riders elected to go with a standard road bike with clip-on aero bars for the 16.24km course, which descended from 1257m in Montana Village to 1102m in the first four kilometres, before rising 1512m on the Aminona climb, before the second, largely flat, half.
The overnight leader, and Spanish time-trail champion, Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) never looked comfortable, turning a very big gear, and ended up finishing 1:24 down on Wiggins. A disappointing performance but he’d probably expended a significant effort to win the two previous stages.
Afterwards Wiggins commented on the Sky site:
It’s really nice to finish it off in a time trial on the last day for the boys. All week they’ve been incredible. It doesn’t matter how strong you are as an individual, without those team-mates this week I wouldn’t be in this position. What a team we’ve had here this week. You know you’re in a great team when you’ve got the world champion riding for you on the front.
If you look over the results of this season’s stage races, the same names keep cropping up in the top ten. I think it’s fair to say there are confident smiles in the Sky team bus. Astana, after a slow start, are looking more and more threatening. I’m also thinking a few bob on Garmin’s Talansky to repeat his white jersey feat in the Tour wouldn’t be money wasted.
But as any self-respecting actuary will tell you, history doesn’t always repeat itself [actually you could just ask PhilGil – Ed] nor is what happened in the past a predictor of the future. What matters is who’ll be standing on the podium in Paris on Sunday 22 July.
Here at VeloVoices, we’d been keeping an eye on 2011’s Alpe d’Huez stage winner Pierre Rolland (Europcar) who finished here in 31st position, just behind Cadel Evans (BMC) who, according to teammate Amael Monard, is currently at only 80%. I think it’s safe to assume that Pierre’s at a similar level and therefore neither the French nor the Australian’s need express any concern at this stage.
1. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 18:05:40
2. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Barracuda) +00:12
3. Rui Costa (Movistar) +00:36
4. Richie Porte (Sky) +00:45
5. Michael Rogers (Sky) +00:50
6. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +00:59
7. Sylvester Szmyd (Liquigas) +01:03
8. Simon Spilak (Katusha) +:01:13
9. Janez Brajkovic (Astana) +01:14
10. Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) +01:15