Maybe it was destined to be for a race with #LiveUphill as its motto. In life, as in cycling, you should never give up because you never know what the next day may bring. And so it was in the 114,5-kilometre fifth, final, and decisive stage from Lienz to Lienz in the 2022 Tour of the Alps.
It was a finale with an exciting script, which saw two French talents take back centre stage after difficult seasons. Today’s stage told two different yet similar parables, that of Romain Bardet and of Thibaut Pinot – both of them stage race specialists from French cycling, both saddled with expectations and hope, and both able to deliver those upon occasion. Instead, destiny hands you a day of revenge when you least expect it.
That Romain Bardet was in an excellent form was evident on Monday at the finish in Primiero/S. Martino di Castrozza. He later confirmed it in consequent finishes, but the Team DSM athlete raced the first four stages without ever attacking. Only one attack on the very hard Stronach climb was enough for him to distance himself from the GC leader, Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious), and to take the Melinda Maglia Verde at the finish in Lienz.
It was a victory of strength and cunning, bundled with teammate, Thymen Arensman’s, third place in the general classification, which strengthens the Frenchman’s position in advance of the Giro d'Italia. Micheal Storer (Groupama-FDJ), who finished 14" back from Bardet, joined them on the podium in second place, thus confirming how this 2022 Tour of the Alps was open until the very end.
But this day in Lienz, Friday, April 22, 2022, also spoke French in terms of stage victory. Where we last left Pinot was in tears on the asphalt after the finish in Kals am Grossglockner, when he was overtaken in the last kilometre by Miguel Angel Lopez. It seemed to be the umpteenth mockery in an oft unlucky career, but instead fate wanted to reward Thibaut Pinot with a win for the first time since his victory on the Col du Tourmalet at the 2019 Tour de France.
He said it at the start in Lienz this morning, "I'll try again today", and so it was. This time not even a mechanical problem at the beginning of the Stronach climb stopped the transalpine rider's desire for revenge, as he tried to rid himself of David de La Cruz on the day’s second GPM climb. But he had to wait until the final climb to raise his arms to the sky.
Always try, never give up. This is the spirit embodied by the Tour of the Alps with its motto #LiveUphill. Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot interpreted it to perfection. Chapeau.
AGAINST CLIMBS, RAIN AND COLD
It took the day's breakaway 26 km to escape. Fifteen riders took advantage, but five riders were quickly caught on the first pass up the Bannberg climb. De La Cruz, Pinot, Arrieta Lizarraga (Equipo Kern Pharma), Iturria Segurola (Euskatel-Euskadi), and Traeen (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team) all fell prey to the charging chasers.
The GC group gave way, and the breakaway began to gain kilometre after kilometre. The two strongest riders were alone in the lead on the following descent until they approached the final climb up Stronach with a 12:30 gap on the classification leaders.
After overcoming a mechanical problem on the approach to the climb, Pinot managed to flick his companion, but the Spaniard was able to recover on the descent.
On the climb toward the finish in Lienz Zettersfeldbahn, however, the Frenchman's desire for revenge got the better of him. A sprint exploded with less than 300 meters to go and left de La Cruz in second place, while the podium was completed by Lennard Kämna at 1'46".
The fight for the general classification was decided on the challenging Stronach climb: 3.1 km with an average 12.4 per cent grade. Team DSM tackled the ascent in front from the base of the climb with Thymen Arensman leading the way and immediately putting Pello Bilbao in trouble.
Bardet, Storer, and Arensman emerged from the selection and were able to climb in front and finish with 39 seconds on Bilbao. They occupy the final podium’s three steps.
BARDET AND PINOT: "A GREAT DAY, BUT WHAT A SHOW AT THE #TOTA".
"At first I didn't believe in a possible victory in the general classification, but today we looked at each other and decided to go for it. The final climb was the hardest of the whole week, but the result makes up for all the work," Bardet said.
"I didn't want to take on Bilbao in the final sprint, so I chose to work together with Arensman; we finished together on the podium, it went better than expected."
"Thibaut and I have known each other for ages, I'm happy for him, today is a great day for French cycling, and a great sign for our season."
"This year the Tour of the Alps impressed me once again from a technical and organizational point of view. This is an opinion I share with the whole team. It's a beautiful race and what's more, it's really suitable for those who have climbing skills, like me. And if I were to move one day, this region could really become my home."
For Thibaut Pinot, "It's a really, really important win for my career on such an incredible day. Today was the classic 'crazy' stage but I'm happy to be back to victory after such a long time."
"The Tour of the Alps is a race of mountains and beautiful landscapes with very nice finishes and a great atmosphere. It is certainly my favourite race. The formula with short and fast stages I like a lot."
"Yesterday I was very disappointed, I had come close to winning after a long time and I almost thought I could never get there again. Actually, thinking about it, yesterday's second place opened my eyes and made me realize that I still have some cards to play, that I can still win. I can still do more, and that I'm competitive again."