Pello Bilbao knows he is in a fight with Romain Bardet (Team DSM) for the overall victory at the Tour of the Alps, but tried to hold his nerve and appear confident before the showdown on Friday’s final and decisive stage around Lienz in Austria.
Bilbao won stage 2 of the Tour of the Alps and his Bahrain Victorious team have dominated the race thanks to their strength in depth. However, they were stretched to their limits on the 142.4km fourth stage and especially on the final 12.4km climb to Kals am Grossglockner.
Miguel Ángel López (Astana Qazaqstan) attacked from the peloton to pass the remains of the break and cruelly pass Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) but that left the final time bonus for third place up for grabs and Bardet stormed up the final 300 metres to take the four precious seconds.
The Frenchman is now only two second behind Bilbao, with time bonuses of 10, six and four seconds awarded at the finish in Lienz. To further complicate things, nine other riders are within 20 seconds in the overall classification. Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ) is third at 12 seconds with Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers) fifth, also at 16 seconds.
The final stage of the Tour of the Alps is only 114.5km long but includes four climbs, with the Stronach (3.1km, at a 12.4 per cent average gradient) ending just 9.5km from the finish.
“I think it’s going to be all about the stage victory and as a consequence the overall victory. I know I’ll have to go all in,” Bilbao said. “But we’re ready for the last day and I hope I can beat Bardet at the finish line.”
Bahrain Victorious were obliged to work for much of stage 4 but Bilbao plans to turn the tables on Bardet and Team DSM on Friday.
“If we’re intelligent it’s easy to understand the race. Bardet needs to beat me, so perhaps it’s the only stage where we don’t need to work,” Bilbao said.
Bilbao beat Bardet to win stage 2 to Lana after a superb lead out from his teammates. On the riding and twisting Kals am Grossglockner finish, Mikel Landa and Santiago Buitrago were there but Bardet simply got the better of them.
“We didn’t have a leadout train, we were all on our limits,” Bilbao admitted. “It was a tough day out. This race is planned that way, to be a great fight for every stage and also give people a chance for GC. That’s why I like it.
“We had to respond to attacks, especially from Sivakov, who tried to get away. In the end I spent too much and couldn’t beat Bardet in the sprint. Bardet was simply stronger and better today. Now we’ll see what happens on Friday.”