The Tour of the Alps is the perfect preparation race before the Giro d’Italia, so the INEOS Grenadiers, down from their high altitude training camp, sent their Giro d’Italia climbing team for a tune up. Geraint Thomas, Pavel Sivakov, Laurens De Plus, Thymen Arensman, Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart will all line up in Italy next month but it was unclear who the leader would be here in this mountainous .Pro race featuring Aleksandr Vlasov, Jack Haig and Hugh Carthy. In this first stage we received some answers, as the team effort of the INEOS train brought back Jack Haig before the finish and Geoghegan Hart was the man to finish the job in the last kilometre on a steep gradient.
Many Giro d’Italia GC contenders are using the Tour of the Alps as a preparation race. All five stages are loaded with climbs but this is not an obstacle for Alberto Dainese as DSM has sent the Italian sprinter to perhaps the hardest one-week race for sprinters imaginable. Dainese finished three seconds inside the time limit on Stage 1.
The main climb Kerschbaumer Sattel topped out at 11 km to go followed by a technical descent and a shallower uphill finish. The tempo was not too high before the decisive climb – Simon Carr spent 2409 kilojoules in 2:57h in mild weather conditions.
The INEOS Grenadiers paced the climb from the base with their mountain train led by Laurens De Plus who pulled for a long time after Ben Swift did the lead-out into the bottom. Despite the Belgian showing good legs, this was not to be a good day for Arensman, with the tall Dutchman dropped in the middle of the climb when the group was still quite big.
De Plus’ pace was too slow for Jack Haig who attacked with 1.4 km to go. The Australian wins rarely (only two wins in his career) and this race is a good chance to add something to palmares as there is no Roglič, Pogačar, Evenepoel, Vingegaard and other big GC riders like his teammate Landa on the startlist. Jefferson Alexander Cepeda joined Haig as the 10%+ gradients suit the sub-60kg Ecuadorian very well. Cepeda even dropped Haig but there was still a descent and a climb to follow, where he would be at a big disadvantage to the group behind.
Cepeda did the climb in 16:46 min with 6.69 ᵉw/kg. This is not unexpected as Cepeda usually performs well in stage races before the Giro. In 2022 he finished 2nd in the Giro di Sicilia and in 2021 was 4th here in the Tour of the Alps. But after these performances, his level in the following Giro has typically been underwhelming – perhaps this will change now that he is at EF Education EasyPost. The tall Australian Haig was 3 seconds slower than Cepeda but caught quickly the Ecuadorian once the climb levelled off. INEOS with Sivakov led the GC group with 13 riders who lost 15 seconds at the crest, but they did not go full gas as there were still 11 kilometres left in the race. With perfect conditions, Cepeda’s performance is close to the yellow trend-line but this definitely will not be close to the best climbing performance in this race.
INEOS were overall the strongest team in this race and with Geraint Thomas' efforts to close down Jack Haig in the valley, it set the table for his teammates to win the stage. The final kilometre was steep and Tao Geoghegan Hart had enough power for the final 3 minutes to win the stage in a similar style as earlier this year in Valenciana. The GC fields seem balanced and there is not a dominant climber in this race which might make Tour of the Alps more exciting than some of the one-sided stage races so far this year, like Tour of the Basque Country. INEOS have the numbers but it will not be easy for Hart or Sivakov to take the overall victory if Haig and Vlasov can put them under pressure.
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