Mattias Skjelmose shines on and off the bike as he wraps up sombre Tour de Suisse victory

Ayuso topped the young podium in the stage 8 ITT, but Skjelmose denied the Spaniard overall victory with third, as stage runner-up Evenepoel climbed to third overall.

Yellow Jersey / GC leader SKJELMOSE Mattias (DEN/Trek-Segafredo) Final Stage 8 (ITT) from St. Gallen to Abtwil (25.7km/SUI) of the 86th Tour de Suisse 2023 (2.UWT) ©kramon

Kit Nicholson
by Kit Nicholson 18.06.2023 Photography by
Kristof Ramon
More from Kit +

Slim margins in the general classification and a 25.7km rolling time trial set the stage for an intriguing finale as an impossibly difficult Tour de Suisse came to an end on Sunday.

With the top four all well within a minute of the jersey, and a stage win apiece, it was touch and go for race leader Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo), who has borne the weight of race leadership with an inspiring respect and maturity as the Tour de Suisse peloton has attempted to deal with Gino Mäder’s passing.

“I feel a lot of big emotions. It’s a combination of a lot of sacrifice for me, and of course Gino’s death,” Skjelmose said after wrapping up overall Tour de Suisse victory with third in the final ITT. “I think everything combined, it just makes me very emotional, and it just needs to come out after the finish line.

“For me, the most important thing was that Gino’s parents and family wanted the race to go on and for us to race as normal, and that put my mindset right. If his closest family wanted it, then that’s what we should do.”

Evenepoel dedicated his solo victory to Gino Mäder as racing resumed in the last 25km of stage 7.

One of the few Swiss riders to have opted to continue the race after Friday’s neutralised memorial ride, an emotional Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-EasyPost) was more motivated than ever to perform in his favourite discipline. He had the whole world behind him as he blasted through the TT course, putting in a performance that rewarded him with a lengthy stint in the hotseat. Alas, the stage win would be fought out among the GC contenders, Bissegger settling for best of the rest in fourth.

Winner of a muted stage 7 on Saturday, Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) was a big favourite to back up his building form on the final day of the race, and with 46 seconds to make up on the young Dane, he was a huge threat for both the stage and the overall title.

But even closer to the top spot was Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates), winner of the Tour de Romandie ITT in April after a prolonged absence through injury. With just an 18-second deficit, the burgeoning Spanish talent seemed to be the heir apparent, especially after the contenders had passed through the first time check, Evenepoel on top, Ayuso five seconds off, and the yellow jersey 24 seconds down – second-place Felix Gall (AG2R-Citroën) had something of a jour sans in a discipline he doesn’t get along with begin with, ultimately losing 3:26 in the TT and falling to fifth overall.

However, to the disappointment of his rivals, Skjelmose flew up the punchy climb in the second half of the TT to narrow his disadvantage to 10 seconds, just as Ayuso overcame Evenepoel to go fastest at the second time check, and held it all the way to the finish, beating the Belgian by eight seconds.

Ayuso on his way to his second stage win of the week, and his second WorldTour-level time trial victory of the season.

The stage win was all but assured as Ayuso dismounted his bike, but he faced a nervous wait to see if he’d also managed to wrap up his first pro GC win.

But Skjelmose crossed the line with the third-best time, nine seconds off Ayuso and just one slower than Evenepoel, delivering on the promise that he’s no slouch on the TT bike and securing his first WorldTour stage race title.

“I thought it was possible,” Skjelmose countered when asked if his TT performance was unexpected. “I always race to win, and I think even if I had a disadvantage in the skinsuit [as opposed to an aero-optimised team suit], I proved that my shape is good and that I’m ready for the Tour. I always believed in this.”

The 22-year-old arrived at the Tour de Suisse aiming for the podium as he builds towards his Tour de France debut, only his second Grand Tour after the 2022 Giro d’Italia. After sealing a breakthrough title in Switzerland, via stage 2 victory on the first-category Villars-sur-Ollon, Skjelmose has confirmed via a team statement that he hopes to target a GC result in July.

“I’m going to try to do GC in the Tour de France. That’s the plan and I believe I can do a good one, still with the knowledge that it’s a bit untouched territory for me so we will go into it with respect and no pressure.”

What did you think of this story?