Rally Cycling's newest recruit, Maël Guégan, didn't take long to make a strong impression on the team. In the opening stages of the Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc, the young Frenchman went on to attack early and successfully kept the peloton at bay to finish a strong sixth form the lead breakaway.
Behind, a group of GC favorites containing Gavin Mannion emerged on the final ascent of the Col de Combloux. The group of climbers managed to reduce the breakaway's gap from nine minutes to just under five minutes while attempting to preserve precious seconds in the overall.
Mannion eventually escaped with Jefferson Cepeda (Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec) over the top of the climb and won the sprint for seventh place in Praz-Sur-Arly, seven seconds ahead a small group containing pre-race favorite Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels - Vital Concept p/b KTM).
"It felt great racing and I'm glad to be back to some level of normalcy," said Mannion. "It's also really nice to see the hard work in training pay off. I'm really happy with the result."
Guégan, who is more of an all-rounder, was distanced on the final climb but fought over the summit and down to Praz-Sur-Arly to claim a hard-earned sixth place in his team debut.
"If you had told me this morning that I would finish sixth on a climbing stage without having ever climbed that mountain pass, I would have signed directly," said Guégan. "But in all seriousness, I'm mostly disappointed I couldn't hang on and challenge for the win."
Although Guegan had hoped for the top step, his effort gave the team the advantage they needed.
"It's always good to have a teammate up the road," said Mannion. "Especially since we have a smaller team here which would make it more difficult to chase. Mael helped take the pressure off and I was able to relax and do my thing at the end."
Waiting for the riders on Thursday is a unique double stage in the mountains. In the morning, the riders will face a challenging 97.4 km stage that finishes at the Vialfrejus ski resort after nearly 2,800 meters of climbing. In the afternoon, a torturous 37.4 km stage to Valmeinier awaits with an additional 1,600 meters of elevation gain.
The overall general classification is likely to be set following these stages while many in the peloton will wish they had spent more time in the mountains these last few months.
Stage 1 Results
1. SCHNEITER Joab Swiss Racing Academy 2:52:56
2. CHAMPION Thomas Bourg En Bresse Ain Cyclisme +0:02
3. DEBONS Antoine Akros - Excelsior - Thomus 0:49
4. CASTELLARNAU Florent Team Pro Immo Nicolas Roux 1:47
5. URRUTY Maxime Team Pro Immo Nicolas Roux
6. GUÉGAN Maël Rally Cycling 1:51
7. MANNION Gavin Rally Cycling 4:23
8. CEPEDA Jefferson Alexander Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec"
9. BONNAMOUR Franck Team Arkéa Samsic 4:30
10. VAN DEN BERG Lars Equipe continentale Groupama - FDJ"
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