The Giro del Trentino may have kicked off its 41st edition under a different moniker, but the newly christened Tour of the Alps is continuing its legacy as a formidable Alpine test and perfect form finder for riders preparing for the upcoming Giro d’Italia.
The 142.3-kilometre opening stage from Kufstein to Innsbruck utilised the same roads as the 2018 UCI Road World Championships and began under cold, wet conditions before finishing under sunny Austrian skies and mild temperatures (12C / 54F).
Newly appointed Astana road captain Michele Scarponi has stepped into team-mate Fabio Aru’s footsteps brilliantly with an opening stage win over a tortuous uphill sprint finish on Monday.
It was the first win of the season for Astana, as well as Scarponi’s first win since 2011 when he rode for Lampre-ISD.
The 37-year-old Italian, who had tipped Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) prior to the race, has been thrust back in the spotlight following Aru’s recent knee injury that has forced him to withdraw from the Giro.
“We are without our captain, but I felt in good condition before the race,” said Scarponi after the finish. “I am happy with the win. The stage did not seem so difficult in the beginning, but the pace was very high from the start and it made the final climb to the finish very tough.”
Scarponi, who was awarded the 2011 Giro crown after Spaniard Alberto Contador was stripped of the title due to a doping suspension being served from a previous infraction, leaves Astana with its most viable general classification option at the first grand tour of the season, which starts on May 5 in Aru’s hometown of Sardinia.
“We had to change our plans after Aru’s injury during a training in Sierra Nevada, so now I’m here speaking about what we have to do at the Tour of the Alps and the Giro d’Italia,” Scarponi said in Kufstein on Sunday. “The answer is: we’ll try to do our best, because we worked a lot to achieve good results here and at the Giro.”
Several strong climbers and GC contenders lined up on the start at Tour of the Alps, most notably former race winners Scarponi, Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) and last year’s victor Mikel Landa (Sky), as well as Pinot.
“I don’t know, I’m feeling well,” said Pinot at the pre-race presser. “The course suites my skills and the main goal will be to find a good shape for the Giro d’Italia”
The 26-year-old Frenchman, has recorded podium results on GC at both Tirreno-Adriatico and Ruta del Sol earlier this season, finished third on stage 1 behind Briton Geraint Thomas (Sky) in second.
As for stage winner and current race leader Scarponi, this week’s true test comes on Stage 3.
“The riders who aim high at Giro come to race here,” he explained. “I think no-one wants to lose, even if everyone says to be here for testing.
“The third stage with the Passo delle Erbe, is probably the most demanding of them all, but also the last fraction will be tough,” Scarponi continued. “There are no easy stages, indeed.
“In addition, the weather doesn’t look so good and it could play a key role in the race’s outcome.”
Alexander Foliforov (Gazprom-RusVelo) took the first KOM of the day atop Brandenberg followed by Hugh Carthy (Cannondale-Drapac) after the pair launched a two-rider attack following the capture of the original six-man break that organised immediately after the start.
The 25-year-old Russian, who rode to prominence with a dominating time trial win on Stage 15 at last year’s Giro, found himself as the lone leader over the second and final KOM with 61km to go before being reeled in by the peloton shortly afterward.
Francesco Gavazzi (Androni Giocattoli), Iuri Filosi (Nippo-Vini Fantini) and Matthias Krizek (Tirol) countered and opened up a two-minute gap before Krizek dropped off following a mechanical inside 25km.
Filosi was caught inside the final 5km after being left to fend for himself after Gavazzi sat up with 10km remaining.
The race remains in Austria for the 181.3km second stage before heading into Italy for the queen stage of the five-day UCI 2.HC event.
Read the original article on Eurosport: Scarponi sprints to stage win in Tour of the Alps opener