The tough summit finish to stage 2 of the Tour of the Alps proved once again to be to Astana’s liking as they took their second stage win in as many days. Miguel Angel Lopez claimed the stage honours, ahead of Thibaut Pinot of Groupama-FDJ, while the overall lead transitioned to Androni-Sidermec-Bottecchia’s Ivan Ramiro Sosa. George Bennett dropped to 11th overall after losing time in the finale.
Stage 2 of the Tour of the Alps (formerly the Giro del Trentino) was a brutal stage, taking the riders 145.5km from Lavarone to Fiemme/Alpe di Pampeago. The stage had two major climbs, with one other category 3 climb in between. It was the final climb that would cause most concern though, with the final major 7.7km ascent to Fiemme – Alpe di Pampeago hitting 14% towards the top.
After 25km of racing a group containing Israel Cycling Academy’s Omer Goldstein, Quentin Jauregui of AG2R La Mondiale, Marco Frapporti of Androni-Sidermec-Bottecchia, Jacopo Mosca of Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia, Oscar Rodriguez of Euskadi-Murias and Stephen Rabitsch of Team Felbermayr Simplon went up the road and formed the break of the day.
The chase efforts were dominated by Groupama-FDJ and Team Sky, with the Astana Team of race leader Pello Bilbao not very present on the front, and happy to let the two teams set the tempo at the front of the race.
Predictably, towards the foot of the final clim of the day the pace in the field ramped up as Sky and Groupama-FDJ worked to bring back the move. They succeeded in reining the time gap to 3.56mins with 18.6km of racing remaining, still a fair bit of chase work to do, but with the expected difficulty of the final climb the time gap wasn’t expected to pose a great threat to the climbing favourites.
Climbing towards the finish kicked off with a little over 16km to go. At 15km to go the gap had come down to 3 minutes, but Team Sky had just moved back into the bunch for now, content to let a couple of other teams set the pace. UAE Team Emirates were willing to step up and set the tempo and continue eating into the break’s lead which now was justthree-strong, with Jauregui, Rabitsch and Frapporti left in the group.
Towards 10km to go LottoNL-Jumbo made a move to position George Bennett close to the front of the goings on. The gap was still dropping steadily with a 2.17min deficit with 10.4km to ride. Also moving forwards were Bahrain-Merida and Team Sky once again.
Eventually the breakaway trio fractured with their advantage down to just under a minute. AG2R’s Quentin Jauregui was the last man standing, but by now the main field – or what was left of it – could see the riders ahead and were beginning to mop up the last three riders. George Bennett was well positioned, with two teammates sitting about fourth wheel in the bunch and ready to strike.
With 4.9km to go it was gruppo compacto and the race was on for the favourites, who were being strung out by Groupama-FDJ, but Team Sky were conspicuously towards the back of the bunch, but still there nonetheless. Behind FDJ and a lone Israel Cycling Academy rider were LottoNL-Jumbo, with Astana close behind them. At 4km to go Team Sky hit the front of the race, with the first big attack still yet to come.
Georg Preidler made the first hint of a move for Groupama-FDJ, but he was covered by Team Sky. George Bennett had started to move back a little in the group as Team Sky set the pace, but with 3km to go he was still looking good in the GC group. Bennett’s last support rider – Koen Bouwman – was just starting to drop back, as Astana made their first move on the climb.
Jan Hirt of Astana and Riccardo Zoidl of Team Felbermayr-Simlon Wels were the next to attack with 2.3km to go, and this time Team Sky looked willing to let the two have a little time out in front. They got an 8 second lead before being brought back with 1.7km to go and it was here that George Bennett started to suffer. He had been sitting fourth wheel in an ever-fragmenting group of favourites, but once the two leaders were caught he found himself going backwards.
With 1km to go Chris Froome made his move, and was countered by Thibaut Pinot, with just six riders able to keep pace at the front of the race. Domenico Pozzovivo was able to go with them for Bahrain-Merida and he went on a threatening attack, forcing Froome to chase. Froome also found himself struggling though under an acceleration by Miguel Angel Lopez, who bridged confidently to the wheel of Pozzovivo; with a brief lull allowing Froome also to regain contact.
It came down to a bit of abunch sprint between five riders, with Pozzovivo leading out, but Froome, Pinot and Lopez came passed with Sosa also right there with them. Lopez was the fastest in the sprint though, just denying Pinot; with Sosa third ahead of Froome at 4 seconds.
George Bennett crossed the line at 1.09mins in 17th place. The result saw him drop to 11th overall, although Sports Director Girscha Niermann was not concerned about his loss of time. “For a long time, the stage went as planned, although Sepp Kuss crashed,” Niermann said. “George Bennett was our man for the final climb afterwards. He ultimately couldn’t keep up with the favourites, but that wasn’t unexpected after his hard crash before this race. Above all, he has just returned from a high altitude training camp.”