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Daryl Impey (Israel-Premier Tech) won stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse to show he is back to his best after two years of injuries and comebacks.
The South African rider opened his sprint with perfect timing down the left as other riders clashed on the right, to surge past Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) and hold off Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) on the line. Søren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM) was third. Bettiol hung on to take fourth and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) was fifth.
It was Impey’s first WorldTour win since his victory on stage 9 at the 2019 Tour de France and his first win since taking the 2020 South African national road race championships.
A nasty high-speed sprint crash exactly a year ago forced Impey to miss the Tokyo Olympics but despite now being 37, he was able to win again.
Welshman Stevie Williams (Bahrain Victorious) finished in the 60-rider front group, despite some attacks from other riders on the late climb. He leads Andreas Kron (Lotto Soudal) by just six seconds, with Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) third at seven seconds.
“I’m ecstatic. It was a tough day,” Impey explained after celebrating with his teammates.
“The competition is so good these days with the young guys, and after everything that happened last year, I didn’t know if I was going to get back on top of the step.
“To finally pull off a victory after all of the hard work is special. I had great support from the team and from my family at home, they’ve helped me through tough times. I’m really happy to win.”
Impey used his climbing and sprinting ability to stay in the front group over the late Sattel climb that ended 14km from the finish. He then followed his instincts in the sprint, the road opening up for him to sprint to victory.
“I felt pretty good going over the last climb. Then I found a good position behind the EF team and had a good position going into the last kilometre and a half to go,” Impey explained.
“I thought I’d lost it all with 800m to go, I was in the mix but the gap opened on the left hand side and I just went for it. I was about to put my hands up but saw a blue flash coming up on my left and so had to go all the way to the line and throw the bike. I wasn’t even sure I’d won but I was really happy I did.”
Impey hinted that 2022 could be his final season in the peloton. His current contract with Israel-Premier Tech ends this year.
“To beat riders like Michael Matthews on a finish like today, near the end of my career, is a fantastic win,” he said.
How it unfolded
The fourth stage started near the Grenchen velodrome where Ellen van Dijk recently set a new women’s Hour Record and where Filippo Ganna intends to target the men’s Hour Record in August.
Frederick Wandahl (Bora-Hansgrohe), Kasper Asgreen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix) and Jan Maas (BikeExchange-Jayco) were all non-starters, with Asgreen hurting after crashing hard on stage 2.
There was a fast start to the 191km stage, with riders keen to get into the early break before the Kappelen climb after 30km. However, the heat was also a factor, dissuading many riders from going hard all day.
Indeed only Matthew Holmes (Lotto-Soudal), Mark Hoelgaard (Trek-Segafredo) and Jimmy Janssens (Alpecin-Fenix) attacked and the peloton soon let them go clear, preferring for a controlled stage and 2,000 metres of vertical climbing. Holmes was the best placed of the three on GC at just over 10 minutes but not a real threat to Williams’ yellow jersey.
The three-man break quickly opened a gap as the peloton decided on its chase strategy and had a five-minute gap after the Kapellen.
EF Education joined in the chase, as did Cofidis and Movistar, who all placed a rider on the front to slowly bring down the gap despite a fast, 47.6km/h average speed for the first hour.
With 100km to go the gap was at 2:45. A crash rattled the peloton a little, with riders from QuickStep-AlphaVinyl, Trek-Segafredo involved.
The 30 Celsius heat was also slowly roasting the rider despite many constantly tasking on ice and bidons. Thymen Arensman (Team DSM) abandoned after the growing fatigue of the Giro d’Italia and Tour de Suisse.
The stage was always going to be shaken up by the late Sattel climb, with its summit just 14 kilometres from the finish. A marked acceleration by Jumbo-Visma in the pack reduced the break’s advantage to 1:00 with 20km to go, the peloton keen to distance as many of the sprinters as possible.
EF Education were riding on the front for Bettiol, Cofidis for Bryan Coquard and Movistar for Alex Aranburu.
Ineos Grenadiers also upped the pace as the climb neared and the break was caught as the gradient began to hurt. Surprisingly, Williams was seen struggling at the back on the gradual slopes of the Sattel climb. However, it was only a brief moment and he made the selection of 60 or so riders and most of the sprinters went backwards and eased up.
Sagan eased up but Matthews was there, so too was Coquard and Impey.
Sébastien Reichenbach (Groupama-FDJ) made a solo attack over the top of the climb to the delight of the local Swiss fans but he was quickly swept up on the fast descent to the finish. Tucked on a wheel was the best placed to be as EF Education generously dragged the peloton to the finish. Rigoberto Uran and Hugh Carthy did big turns to keep the speed high.
EF Education lead the peloton until the tight right turn into the centre of Brunnen. In the finishing straight, Bettiol kicked first but lacked speed and power, as Thomas tried to lead Pidcock up the right behind him. Matthews was too far back but Impey saw his chance open on the left and accelerated away to victory.
Sagan showed he is back on Tuesday and so too is Daryl Impey.
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