Tour de Suisse: Mattias Skjelmose wins stage 3 summit finish at Villars-sur-Ollon

Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo) secured the stage 3 victory on the summit finish at Villars-sur-Ollon, taking the overall race lead at the Tour de Suisse.

Skjelmose attacked early on the steep, 10-kilometre climb to Villars-sur-Ollon and accelerated again with 600 metres left to drop his remaining companion, Felix Gall (AG2R Citroën Team).

The 22-year-old Dane moved into the race lead after a wet 143.8km third stage with a sting in its tail that shook up the general classification at the eight-day race.

The peloton caught the day’s breakaway quartet inside the final 30 kilometres. There was a gradual wearing-down process on the last ascent.

Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) started the fireworks, bringing Gall and Skjelmose with him. However, with their lead dwindling, both riders attacked the World Champion, who is in his first race back from a COVID-19 positive that took him out of the Giro d’Italia.

Finishing twelve seconds behind Skjelmose, Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) attacked from the group of chasers to take third place, just ahead of Evenepoel.

This is the first WorldTour victory as a professional for promising stage racer Skjelmose, who finished runner-up at the Flèche Wallonne in April. He described the milestone as “incomparable” after the finish.

“I had a big question mark about my climbing abilities. OK, this maybe isn’t the hardest mountain stage, but it’s still a long climb, and I did really good,” he said. “I think we can make it a little bit of a smaller question mark, at least.”

Asked about Evenepoel, he responded that he was more worried about Gall’s late attack than the Belgian star: “I wasn’t sure if Remco was playing games or if he was on the limit. I always trusted myself, and especially when the team works like this, I just gave it everything I could.”

How it unfolded

A few kilometres after the start in Tafers, four riders formed the escape of the day: Lilian Calmejane (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Alexander Kamp (Tudor Pro Cycling Team), Paul Ourselin (TotalEnergies) and Nickolas Zukowsky (Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team).

It was a second day up the road for Zukowsky, who extended his lead in the mountains competition after 100km of flat roads. On rain-slicked roads, the Canadian crossed the first-category Col des Mosses behind the rapid Calmejane.

However, the break was kept at arm’s length all day, its advantage never topping four minutes on a stage through the Swiss greenery. Soudal-QuickStep and Groupama-FDJ were the principal pursuers, racing vigilantly for contenders Remco Evenepoel and race leader Stefan Küng.

Zukowsky was the last man to be caught, 28 kilometres from the line. Despite a brief bunch split on the slippery descent, a large group tackled the 9.7-kilometre climb to Villars-sur-Ollon. With an average gradient of 7.8%, it sorted out the contenders.

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) led through the sprint at its foot and pushed the pace before Soudal-QuickStep took over, with Evenepoel poised second wheel.

The high speed and gradient exposed the lack of condition of several would-be contenders. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) and Sergio Higuita (Bora-hansgrohe) were not among the 30-strong lead group with seven kilometres to go. Race leader Stefan Küng soon joined them off the back after putting up a fight.

As Remco Evenepoel’s team-mate James Knox finished his turn, the Belgian accelerated 6.5km out. He was joined by Austrian rider Felix Gall (AG2R Citroën Team) and Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo). The pair let the world champion set the pace.

Their lead went up to 15 seconds, then slowly diminished. It was not the denouement or the eviscerating Evenepoel we’re used to seeing in such a scenario.

The chasing quintet of Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates), Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious), Wilco Kelderman (Jumbo-Visma), Cian Uijtdebroeks (Bora-hansgrohe) and Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-EasyPost) kept them in sight and gradually rode back up to them.

With their lead dropping, Gall jumped away 2,500 metres from the finish, soon followed and joined by Skjelmose. Wearing the white jersey of the best young rider, Evenepoel did not respond to either move and was caught by the pursuers under the flamme rouge. It remains to be seen whether the Belgian is feeling negative after-effects from COVID-19 or its impact on his training programme.

Ayuso hit the afterburners in the last kilometre but finished in no man’s land. It was too little, too late to catch Gall and Jensen.

Up the road, the Dane turned the screw with 600 metres to go, and Gall was narrowly distanced, finishing three seconds behind. Skjelmose’s bravura race-opening time-trial, finishing sixth, 19 seconds down on winner Küng, means the man from Copenhagen moves into the lead of the Tour de Suisse. In all, it was a day for young hopefuls: 25-year-old Gall was the oldest man in the top five.

Skjelmose will look to defend his leader’s jersey all the way to the race finish, starting tomorrow. Stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse sees another mountain stage, including three tough climbs in the finale. It covers 152.5km between Monthy and Leukerbad.


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Andy McGrath

Formerly the editor of Rouleur magazine, Andy McGrath is a freelance journalist and the author of God Is Dead: The Rise and Fall of Frank Vandenbroucke, Cycling’s Great Wasted Talent

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