As the race made its return to the mountains, the Tour de Suisse ascended two of the country’s most famous climbs – the San Bernardino Pass and the Albulapass. With the support of his BORA-hansgrohe teammates, Patrick Konrad bridged to the GC contenders and was riding well, but chose to stay safe in treacherous weather conditions on the descent to the finish where he took 13th place and climbed to 11th in the GC.
Another foray into the mountains would challenge riders and give them a chance to bring the race for the overall standings to life. The 167km stage, which took place in the southern alps, had just two climbs, but they were two of the hardest climbs the country has to offer – the San Bernardino Pass and the Albulapass. Both of these climbs are long and steep, only adding to the fatigue already in the riders’ legs after five stages, with each reaching maximum gradients of 12%. The challenging finish, with short, fast descent after cresting the summit of the Albulapass, would also allow those planning on taking some time in the GC to make their intentions known.
Knowing the threat posed to their GC lead, BMC was working hard today to shut down the breaks, and while groups did manage to escape, they were brought back in moments later. With almost 50km completed, the escape came at the foot of the day’s first climb – a small group drove the pace so hard they left the peloton in their wake, making up a group of ten. This sizeable group, if they worked well together, could hold out until the end, and the GC contenders in the peloton knew this, and would work hard to make sure this didn’t happen. With his first stage win of this year’s Tour de Suisse under his belt, and the black jersey of the leader of the points contest on his back, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, had no intention of sitting back and letting others take the strain, as he worked hard to support his teammates on the difficult stage. The Slovak rider was a regular sight carrying water and food from the team car to his BORA-hansgrohe teammates up the road.
With 50km remaining, the break’s advantage was at just over two minutes and dropping – albeit slowly. In response to an attack from the break, the bunch responded in turn, upping their pace to reduce the time gap. The rest of the escapees were falling back in response to this relentlessly hard pace, but in the chasing bunch, Patrick Konrad was working hard to hold on, going at his own pace and not being drawn into the constant, energy sapping attacking and counter-attacking. As the race moved into the final 10km, it had been easy just a few kilometres earlier to think the break could stick, but the pace of the chasers had cut this down drastically. On the short backside of the climb, the rain came down, making the descent treacherous. Electing to stay safe to be able to ride the later stages, Patrick rode conservatively to arrive safely in 13th place.
From the finish, the young Austrian rider explained his strategy for the finale. “I bridged to the chasing group on the Albulapass and I was happy to be riding with the other GC contenders. The rain on the downhill to the finish made the roads very slippery though, and I made the decision to hold back and stay safe. I am satisfied with today’s result, and also with the overall because I’m now in 11th place. Today everything went well – I still feel the Giro in my legs, but I’m taking the race day by day, paying attention to how I feel and how my legs are. Tomorrow will be another hard day, but I am looking forward to it because it’s always nice to race in your home country. There are only three seconds to 10th in the GC and I’ll try to take some time in the ITT. As I say, I can still feel the Giro in my legs, so I’m going to focus on recovering now.”
While the conditions at the finished had an impact on the day’s outcome, Directeur Sportfil, Jan Valach, was pleased with Patrick’s ride today. “It was a long and tough stage today, with two long climbs, and the team worked for Patrick Konrad. He stayed in the main group and rode very well with Jay McCarthy Jan Bárta and Peter Sagan, who were the ones who brought him safely and in a good position to the bottom of the final climb to Albulapass. He crested the summit in a group of five riders, about 25 seconds behind the leading riders. The rain made it more difficult and in the final descent he was cautious, finishing the stage in 13th place. We are happy with his performance, as he’s moved up a place in the GC to 11th, and he’s shown his fighting spirit. Tomorrow’s stage is another opportunity for him, so we will again support him.”
Tomorrow sees the last of the mountains, but it’s a deceptively hard day in the saddle. There’s only one climb on the 166km route, but the Hors Catégorie Tiefenbachferner is 16.6km long, has an average gradient of 8.6%, and the steeper slopes hit 15% in the middle of the climb. For the 150km of the day before the climb starts, the ascent will weigh heavily on the riders’ minds – both for those wanting to contest the GC race, and for those who’ll be happy just to get through the day.
photo credit: ©BORA-hansgrohe / Stiehl Photography