A reduced group of 25 contested the fast finish on the F1 race circuit for stage three.
Trek-Segafredo played its cards as best they could for the third day at the Tour de la Provence with the outcome a second place in the sprint finish for Toms Skujins behind winner Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and ahead of third-placed Tony Gallopin (AG2R La Mondiale).
There was nothing I could do more. The team did the perfect race but unfortunately the best result we could come up with was second, and I am happy with that.
Trek-Segafredo placed two riders in the day’s escape group with Michael Gogl and Matteo Moschetti joining seven others. The breakaway worked well together over the course and on the five ending circuits, but behind the peloton turned on the gas in last two laps, reducing the gap to a mere 20 seconds at the bottom of the final ascent of the Côte du Brûlat (3kms at 7%).
Gogl and a Sunweb rider were the last two holdouts, but no match for the unwavering peloton who swatted them aside as the attacks began.
“It definitely was a fun day, and I screwed up yesterday, so I needed to prove myself that the guys are not riding just for fun for Michael and me,” said Skujins. “We had a good plan and wanted to make the race hard and put two guys in the break if possible. We had Matteo and Michael up there, which was great and hats off to both of them, but especially to Matteo who is a sprinter but today didn’t know that! Also being a first-year pro, and this is not the easiest race for a sprinter like him, so being up there with Michael to the bottom of the last time up the hill was really impressive. It was great to see.”
Dropped on the penultimate time up the climb, Moschetti rode himself inside out to get back to the leaders and then immediately began pulling hard in the breakaway again. He rode hard to the bottom of the climb with 15 kilometers to go, where he finally threw in the towel. Gogl would be swept up a few kilometers later, but the plot was playing out as planned.
“In the peloton, I was protected by the rest of the crew, and we stayed out of trouble, stayed up front and out of the wind,” continued Skujins. “The closer we got to the finale the more I had confidence in myself, and I didn’t want to let the guys down. Fumy (Beppu) did a great job keeping me up there and then when everyone was gone it was me, and Niklas (Eg) left, and he did a great job keeping me out of the wind. Unfortunately, John (Degenkolb) had a mechanical, so he was not able to be there.
“In the final lap, I missed the front group on the climb, missed the acceleration, so I could not really close it down, but when I looked around, I saw that there were three Movistar and four AG2R guys, so I knew we would come back. I didn’t panic, I did a few pulls so that I would not be too far back and would stay at the front.”
Nine riders emerged over the top of the Côte du Brûlat with just over 10 kilometers remaining, but a group of 15 riders that included Skujins was not far behind.
The two groups came together on the Circuit Paul Ricard, and despite a few antagonists accelerating off the front, they arrived together for a sprint finish.
I knew it would normally come down to a sprint and I knew that Gilbert and Gallopin were the guys to beat. One I did beat, but the other was just too strong – he’s won a bike race or two or something…,” Skujins joked. “Obviously, a win is better but sometimes you have to accept the result you got is the best that was possible, and we all worked hard together to achieve it. It was fun, and we will have a fun day again tomorrow!
Michael Gogl was awarded the most combative for stage three, earning the Austrian a trip onto the podium, a nice reward for the hard work from him and the entire team in stage three.