Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quickstep) won a shortened stage 1 of the Tour de Romandie, beating Niccolo Bonifazio (Trek-Segafredo) and Michael Albasini (Orica-Greenedge) in the sprint finish.
Originally today's opening stage was scheduled to be 169km from La Chaux-de-Fonds but due to some early morning snowfall the orgnisers were forced to cut out the opening 60km of the stage which also meant the cat 2 Col des Etroits would also be bypassed.
With it being such a short stage at only 109km now, everyone knew it would be fast from the gun. As a result, only 1 rider was able to get away early on and it was only because the peloton allowed, that the gap went up to 4 minutes. The lead would be brief though as Movistar and Tinkoff pretty much brought the lone leader back at will and with 15km to go, the race was all together.
Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka were looking to our punchy Italian sprinter for the finale, Kristian Sbaragli. The few short sharp climbs near the finish certainly suited Sbaragli but unfortunately the big name sprinter, Kittel, was able to regain contact in the final few flatter kilometers to contest and eventually win the sprint. Sbaragli was well positioned on the wheel of the German going into the final kilometer but in the end it would be 9th place for our African Team rider on the line.
It was a good stage but it was cut short because of the snow and this made it a lot easier. Kittel got dropped on the last climb but he was able to come back to the main group. Honestly I am not happy with my result but I know I am looking ahead to the Giro. Romandie is great preparation so I am staying focused.
Kristian Sbaragli - Rider
The stage was shortened in order to take out the high level altitude roads and the main 2nd category climb, which would have played a part in the race and tired a lot of legs out. It was a very fast and short day at only 2 and half hours. The plan was to go full gas for Kristian to take the win. The final climb in particular was where we looked to see which teams were pulling and then to try and make it as hard as possible and drop guys like Impey and Kittel. It wasn't quite hard enough though and both Impey and Kittel got back. Jaco Venter did a great job dropping Kristian off on the wheel of Kittel for the final kilometer. Kristian had to make a bit of an effort before that so he was a bit tired. Youcef Reguigui who is coming back from a knee injury was also up there which is good. Songezo Jim was super helpful, going up and down all day with jackets and bidons. After rain, sleet and later some sunshine, it was a pretty mixed day but Kristian can still be happy. With the big climb the stage would have suited him better but we look forward to the next stages now.
Oli Cookson - Sport Director