It was the most anticipated stage of this Tour of the Alps since the very first announcement of the route, and the fourth stage of the Euro-regional stage race, 168.6 km from Naturns/Naturno (South Tyrol) to Valle del Chiese/Pieve di Bono (Trentino) did not betray any expectation. Boniprati’s unprecedented ascent and descent may have issued the final rulings on the overall success, with Simon Yates’ hold on the green jersey looking even more solid after the stage, but there was much more than that.
There was the stage victory of Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious), who offered his moving dedication to a friend, Michele Scarponi, who left us four years ago. There was the challenge of the contenders for the next Giro d’Italia, which reaffirmed that Yates is perhaps the man to beat in view of the pink race. There was also the pride of a great champion like Chris Froome (Israel Start-up Nation), who on the day with the greatest elevation gain of the whole race (3880 meters) launched himself in the breakaway, started on the ramps of Hofmahdjoch/Passo Castrin, the highest peak of this Tour of the Alps.
Along with Froome, eight more strong men featured in the break: Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ), Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (Trek-Segafredo), Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana-PremierTech), Felix Grossschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe), Hermann Pernsteiner (Bahrain Victorious), Nicolas Proudhomme (Ag2r Citroen), Nicolas Roche (Team DSM) and Marlon Dima (Eolo-Kometa).
A very solid bunch to which Simon Yates’ Team BikeExchange never seemed eager to leave much of a chance, as they could not get more than 2:42 on the peloton, the highest mark being reached right on the Hofmahdjoch/Passo Castrin. Already in the passage through Val di Sole, and then the climb to Passo Campo Carlo Magno, the peloton had started its comeback, and the chase was finalized with 18 km to go, right after the first time across the Pieve di Bono finish line – in the opposite direction.
Like in the Feichten stage, Quintana‘s Arkea-Samsic took on the responsibility of setting an aggressive pace early on the Boniprati climb, and it took only a few hundred meters on the hard slopes of the new ascent for the pack to be conspicuously reduced in numbers.
After a few kilometers controlled by the Ineos Grenadiers, a Hugh Carthy (EF Education – Nippo) attack 11 km from the end saw Pavel Sivakov, the leader of the British team, lose contact, probably suffering from the consequences of the previous day’s crash.
The following acceleration came in the toughest stretch of the climb (gradients over 9%) by Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-PremierTech), it was the overall leader Simon Yates to get back on him. The two collaborated up to the top of the categorized climb chased by a pair formed by Daniel Martin (Israel Start-up Nation) and Pello Bilbao.
In the very technical final descent, though, the fate of the two pursuers significantly diverged: the Irishman crashed twice, while Bilbao began his comeback on the two in command, facing the descent decidedly on the attack: after the stage, the Basque would reveal that he had carefully studied the corners at the desk together with DS Franco Pellizotti.
His downhill ability allowed Bilbao to return to the two leaders and take the satisfaction of leaving them behind in the final sprint: second place for Vlasov, third for Yates.
“I wanted a stage win in this Tour of the Alps, yesterday I had tried to the last, but it didn’t go well; today I knew I had an important opportunity and I was able to take advantage of it,” said the Spaniard. “On Tuesday I was disappointed after the Feichten stage, but yesterday I recovered a lot of terrains and now I’m second in the standings: tomorrow it will be hard to bring a major upset, but I certainly want to defend my place on the podium at Riva.”
For him, it was the second career success at the Tour of the Alps, after the one claimed in Folgaria in 2018. His dedication, however, was the same: “Today is a special day for us all. I believe that many of us today would have liked to win to dedicate a success to Michele Scarponi on the anniversary of his death. Michele for me was a teammate and a special person: today it was worth risking a little more to pay him this tribute.”
Also, Simon Yates was glad about the day’s outcome: “We are in an excellent position with one day to go. We managed the race well, without taking excessive risks. In view of tomorrow, there is still nothing decided, certainly another busy day awaits us, but I feel happy: the feelings are really good, and this Tour of the Alps is giving me the answers I was hoping for.”
With the only final stage still to be raced, Simon Yates leads with a 58-second margin over Bilbao, 1:06 over Vlasov, 2.18 over the white jersey Würth Modyf of Jefferson Cepeda (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), 2:37 over Sivakov and Carthy. The light blue Cassa Centrale Group jersey has passed over the shoulders of Eolo-Kometa’s Hungarian Marton Dina, while Felix Engelhardt of Tirol-KTM continues to wear the intermediate sprints’ PMG Sport red jersey.
Tomorrow it is time for the grand finale: Valle del Chiese/Idroland – Riva del Garda, from Lake Idro to Lake Garda through 120.9 km entirely in Trentino. In between, the climbs to Passo Duron, Passo del Ballino and the double ascent to the Tenno Lake, the main difficulty of the final circuit to be faced twice. An entertaining and eventful stage has to be expected, offering memorable glimpses and an exceptional background to celebrate the winner of the 2021 Tour of the Alps.