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Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var: Gianluca Brambilla conquers frantic climbing stage to snatch GC victory

Michael Woods loses GC lead after defiant ride through relentless final day of racing.

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Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo) proved strongest in a frantic final day of racing at the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var on Sunday, grabbing both the stage win and the GC with a solo attack from the breakaway in the final 11 kilometers of racing.

Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) and Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citröen) took second and third in the kick for podium spots after the race was left scattered over the foothills outside of Nice.

Brambilla’s win Sunday made for his first major victory in several years after enjoying a prolific season in 2016, and the Italian thanked his team for its faith after several below-expectation seasons.

“I want to say thanks to John Burke and Luca Guercilena at Trek, they always believed in me in the past year, even if something difficult happened I always gave 100 percent,” Brambilla said. “I think this is the way to pay them back.”

Brambilla took the stage and the GC after a frantic day of racing. Photo: James Startt

With 19 GC positions separated by only 21 seconds at the start of the stage, dozens of riders fought to move up the classification from the first of the many climbs of the short closing day of the race.

Overnight leader Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) was put under pressure through the race, and though the Canadian was unable to retain his GC lead, a defiant ride saw him finish 10th on the day and do enough to hang on to take second overall, with Bauke Mollema making it a one-three on the final podium for Trek-Segafredo.

Stellar breakaway pressures Israel Start-Up Nation

A powerful break of around 15 clipped away after an hour of racing, with Geoghegan Hart, Brambilla, Alexis Vuillermoz (Total Direct Energie), Gorka Izagirre (Astana-Premier Tech), Rudy Mollard, Bruno Armirail and Valentin Madouas (all Groupama FDJ) all in the move.

With so many GC threats and Mollema’s Trek-Segafredo teammates in the move, Israel Start-Up Nation had to do all the pulling to keep Woods in contention, but the break worked well to take over 2:30 advantage into the final categorized climb of the Madone.

Heading into the Cat.1 ascent, both the breakaway and the chase group behind began fracturing. By the top of the climb, Madouas and Brambilla had punched away from the break to hold a small gap over the five remaining escapees, while Woods was left isolated and leading the pursuit in a GC group around one minute back.

Frantic finale through the hills around Nice

The race was scattered all over the road heading into the short penultimate climb in the closing 15km as Madouas and Brambilla held a 15 second lead over a chase duo of Geoghegan Hart and Molard.

With his GC overall at threat, Woods pushed the pace in the chase group of seven, which also included Mollema and Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic), around one minute back.

Brambilla made his move at 11km to go to power away from Madouas as the Woods-group began to close down the remnants of the break.

“I didn’t know anything in the final, I had a problem with the race radio, I didn’t know the time gaps,” Brambilla said. “My director came up in the car and told me to give everything and drop everyone if I wanted the stage. I was thinking about the stage, not the GC.”

With 3km to go, Brambilla held a 25-second lead over a small group of chasers.

Geoghegan Hart punched away from the pursuing bunch to attempt to distance Woods and chase down Brambilla, only to see his effort brought back as Brambilla clung on to win by 13 seconds.

Top-3 on stage 3:

  1. Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo): 3:43:32
  2. Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers): +0:13
  3. Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citröen): S.T.

Final GC:

  1. Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo): 12:51:00
  2. Michael Woods (ISN): +00:05
  3. Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo): +00:06