The 45th Tour of the Alps started on Monday with a 6-man Team Bahrain Victorious squad showing strongly on the front of the bunch throughout the day, before Pello Bilbao won a sprint for 2nd place behind stage winner Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroën Team).
The Frenchman had been part of the initial breakaway which built up a lead of 7’45”, before the first climb, the category 2 Passo Brocon. It was Bahrain Victorious who were active at the front and pulled the peloton, reducing the gap to 4 minutes at the first KoM.
Bouchard was all alone at the front of the race by the top of the day’s other categorised climb, the 3rd cat Passo Gobbera, and with Ineos Grenadiers helping, there were 5 TBV riders pushing the pace as the leader’s advantage fell to 2’30”
It was down to a minute when the race entered its denouement – a 13.5k lap around Fiera di Primiero, including a kick to the finish with maximum gradients of 9%.
Bahrain Victorious were once again dominant in the chase, and although Bouchard managed to hold on for victory, 5 seconds behind, Bilbao came around and through a big group, passing 5 riders to take the sprint for second place ahead of rivals including Romain Bardet, Pavel Sivakov, Miguel Angel Lopez & Richie Porte.
“At one point we thought the race was lost. The peloton didn’t work together 100% but we tried to pull full in the last 5k and we were near,” said Bilbo after the stage.
The Basque rider, who finished 2nd overall here last year, takes a time bonus on the line to lie 9 seconds back in GC. Santiago Buitrago came over the line in 11th, and leader Mikel Landa made it 3 TBV riders in the top 25.
After that team performance, Bilbao added, “We showed that we can do great things in this race.”
Stage 2 leaves from where stage 1 ended, and the race heads 153kms to Lana, with 2 serious climbs to contend with on the way.
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— Simona Mazzoleni to bahraincyclingteam.com