CLES, Italy — Veteran AG2R La Mondiale pista specialist Matteo Montaguti (ITA) came away with a bunch sprint victory in a photo finish on the penultimate stage at Tour of the Alps in Cles, Italy on Thursday.
The 33-year-old Italian edged Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Australian Rohan Dennis (BMC), who had already won stage 2, at the line to claim his first win in seven years.
Despite having raced for 11 Grand Tours and 13 Classics, Montaguti had previously only recorded two victories in his 10-year pro career — seven of which have been spent with AG2R. Both his stage and race win came in 2010 at the 60th Giro della Provincia di reggio Calabria.
“I’m so happy to have won today, it was seven years without winning, and also even better because I strongly wanted to come to the Tour of the Alps,” said Montaguti. “I asked the team to come here rather than doing the Classics like I ddi in the previous years since I believe that coming here with longer mountains was the best way to prepare for the Giro d’Italia and be more helpful for Domenico [Pozzovivo].
“Today was a win that was somewhat unexpected,” he continued. “The team had asked me to do the sprint but just to take the bonus seconds away from Thibaut Pinot who was just behind Domenico.”
Montaguti also gave credit to the very man he was ordered to take time from for being a “fair player” in the finish.
“I went to Pinot after the stage to say thank you and congratulate him on second place since I had to pass him on the right and almost made him crash, but it was the only channel I could take,” admitted Montaguti. “When I tried to pass on the right and he didn’t close me, I give even more and understood that no one could come back from the left since it was slightly more windy on that side while I was more sheltered.
In the end, I understand that if Thibaut went out to slam the door I would have braked and would have lost this race, so it was really great fair play on his side.
After back-to-back stages shortened due to freshly snow-capped mountain passes, riders were met with idyllic conditions on the 165.3km ride from Bolzano to Cles — the latter of which hosted a stage of the 1989 Giro d’Italia won by Italian Giuseppe Saronni.
After 21km of racing, Kilian Frankiny (BMC), Jeremy Roy (FDJ) and a pair of Bardiani-CSF riders Simone Andreetta and Stefano Pirazzi launched a four-rider break that quickly became five with the addition of Davide Villella (Cannndale-Drapac).
The quintet opened up a minute gap on the peloton en route to a maximum lead of more than four minutes (+4:20) nearing the 60km mark before a hard-charging peloton led by Sky with team captain and race leader Geraint Thomas (GBR) in tow.
On the second of two categorised climbs, Pirazzi, Frankiny and Villella dropped Andreetta then Roy before Villella quickly fell suit.
Pirazzi and Frankiny gave a valiant effort, as did AG2R’s Hubert Dupont, who bridged a long gap inside 10km to join the duo before all three were caught with a bit more than 1km to go.
With only one day remaining — a 192.5km stage with two categorised climbs between the towns of Smarano and Trento — Thomas, who finished 12th on the day, holds a narrowing lead on Pinot, who leapfrogged 2012 winner Pozzovivo (AG2R) to move up 6 seconds on GC into second place just 13 seconds down on the leader. Pozzovivo is now 16 seconds down in third with stage 1 winner Michele Scarponi (Astana) 5 seconds back in fourth.
“It’s only 10 seconds for the win,” said Thomas, referring to his gap over what he considers his main threat in Pinot. “There are a lot of strong guys, a lot of aggressive riders as well … for sure he’s one of the strongest, but there’s also a lot of good guys in the top 10 so it’s certainly not over yet.”
Photo: Seongeun Kang
Read the original article on Eurosport: AG2R’s Montaguti clips Pinot in photo finish at ‘The Alps’