Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) continued Astana’s remarkable start to the season by soloing to victory at Tirreno-Adriatico, Sunday. Astana also won the previous stage, with Alexey Lutsenko taking a thrilling victory against the odds.
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) came second, 40 seconds behind the Dane, having attacked on the final climb in a bid to protect his overall advantage on GC over Fuglsang, and to extend his lead over GC rival Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), who finished third on the stage.
“We basically tried to do the same thing as yesterday,” said Fuglsang, referring to his team’s victory in the previous stage. “Today was my turn to go from the distance. Luckily it worked out. I wanted to win this stage for Michele Scarponi and his wife who visited us yesterday.”
The 180-kilometer stage from Colli al Metauro to Recanati was backloaded with nine short, steep climbs as the race looped around a finishing circuit, with repeated efforts of the “Wall of Recanati”, which includes gradients of up to 19 percent, and which also marked the climb to the finish line.
The decisive action started with 35km remaining, when Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Nico Denz (AG2R-La Mondiale), Davide Gabburo, and Eduardo Zardini (both Neri Sottoli) attacked off the front of a large breakaway group.
Behind the remaining breakaway riders, a group of GC favorites separated from the main peloton as the repeated tough climbs shattered the bunch. The elite group included Fuglsang, Lutsenko, Yates, Roglic, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Vicenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step), and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). This GC group soon went through the remnants of the breakaway men, and with 24km to go, Fuglsang made his move, bridging up to the lead quartet of Pederson, Denz, Gabburo, and Zardini.
With 10km to go, only Fuglsang and Gaburro were left out front, as the steep climbs had bitten into the other breakaway men.
Behind, the GC group splintered briefly after an attack from Nibali, but soon came back together. As the group re-formed, Yates attacked hard, with only Roglic able to follow. With Fuglsang now 50 seconds ahead as the sole leader of the race, Yates was clearly looking to protect his 1:19 advantage over the Dane in the GC as much as he was looking for stage victory, while also seeking to put pressure on Roglic, his nearest GC rival at the start of the day.
With Yates attempting to turn the screw on Roglic, the gap to Fuglsang began to tumble, however, the Astana man held on to take a solo victory.
Behind him, Yates did all he could to distance Roglic, who clung doggedly to the Brit. Roglic seemed both unwilling to assist in the work, but also incapable of doing so, struggling to match Yates’ fierce pace. Yates crossed the line 40 seconds after Fuglsang in second place. Roglic did eventually lose Yates’ wheel, finishing in third, 16 seconds behind his GC rival.
With Fuglsang’s stage victory, the GC is now tight, with Yates leading Roglic and Fuglsang by 25 and 35 seconds respectively. Stage 6, Monday, starts hilly but has a flat second half, and so is likely to be one for the breakaway or sprinters, meaning that the race could well be decided on the final time trial of stage 7.
“In the back of my head I would have liked 45 seconds just to be safe,” said Yates. “I’m not sure how much time he [Roglic] look out of me last year, but I think he was top 10 [in the time trial]. It’s not a TT course that suits me, but I’ll try my best and hopefully it’s enough.”