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Alberto Bettiol says he attacked on the Tour de France cobbled stage 5 in order to avoid crashes despite having two teammates in Magnus Cort and Neilson Powless up the road in the front group that eventually contested the win.
The EF Education EasyPost rider accelerated in the group behind containing Tadej Pogačar, admittedly as the gap was 1-24 and shrinking, and on a road stage where communication is much more complicated than a regular stage on tarmac.
“It was the plan to go in the break, even with Rigo, just to avoid the big mess behind in the group,” Bettiol told CyclingTips after the stage. “I think we made it except for Rigo. Looking at how we raced it went pretty well today. The important thing was to not lose a lot of time like a lot of people did. I think we managed pretty well and tomorrow is another day.”
But why did he go on the offensive with his teammates up the road? Did he sense Cort and Powless faltering? The former having been in the break for four days in a row and Powless possessing one of the weaker sprints in the quintet.
“I was feeling really good,” Bettiol explained. “I decided to attack just to avoid crashes and because I had two strong [teammates] in the front. From the car they told me not to go full gas because it was still a long way but I felt really, really good today but unfortunately I had a flat tyre later on but I have good feedback from today’s stage.”
As video clips circulated showing Bettiol and Pogačar conversing before the Italian put the hammer down, the internet promptly went into meltdown with conspiracy theories and wild accusations. While Powless’ group weren’t caught before the finish, the American missed out on the yellow jersey by 13 seconds yet it’s impossible to know whether Bettiol’s actions cost his team the race lead.
“Tadej told me ‘let’s go, Alberto!'” Bettiol later told Gazzetta dello Sprort. “I told him I can’t pull too much because I have two guys in the front, I just wanted to break the peloton.” Bettiol went on to explain that if he hadn’t suffered a puncture he thinks he could have followed Pogačar and Jasper Stuyven off the front of the peloton.
“Well,” tweeted EF team boss Jonathan Vaughters. “This will be an interesting post race debrief…#netflix”.