The 33-year-old became the first Argentinian to score a victory in the race which this year celebrates its 80th edition.
Etixx – Quick-Step's unity and teamwork were displayed once again, this time in stage 4 of Tour de Suisse (Rheinfelden – Champagne, 193 km), when our riders grouped at the front of the peloton with 50 kilometers to go, taking the responsibility and controlling the advantage of the four escapees – Matt Brammeier (Dimension Data), Lukas Jaun (Team Roth), Jeremy Maison (FDJ) and Nick Van der Lijke (Roompot Oranje) – who were enjoying a 3-minute lead at that point. Racing his second World Tour event of the season, Rodrigo Contreras was one of the pillars of the squad, spending a significant amount of energy despite a stiff headwind in order to cut the gap, and his work paid dividends, as the advantage became a slim one with just 20 kilometers remaining, leaving the breakaway within reach.
Just as yesterday, Zdenek Stybar and Czech champion Petr Vakoč took over the reins in the final 10 kilometers, pushing a hard pace which seriously stretched out the peloton, not allowing other teams to come to the front, and in the same time making contact with the escapees with around 7 kilometers to go. The super fast pace prevented the attackers from launching any move on the lumpy finishing circuit, so it came down to a bunch gallop, a very dangerous one, because of a sharp right-hand corner which awaited the riders with only 140 meters left of what was the last sprinters' stage at this edition.
Leading Fernando Gaviria, Maximiliano Richeze dive-bombed into the final stretch with the Colombian in his wheel, but the 21-year-old neo-pro didn't show any interest in taking the win, preferring to sit up and keep an eye on overall leader Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), who was just behind. Max, who's in his first season with Etixx – Quick-Step, crossed the line with his arms high, celebrating a long-awaited victory, while Fernando sealed a flawless 1-2 for the team. A valuable team player, Richeze claimed his first victory in nearly four years, which coincided with Etixx – Quick-Step's 30th win since the start of the season, 8 of which came in World Tour races.
The 13th different rider to bring a success to the squad since January, Max was lost for words right after the finish, but once he returned from the podium and things calmed down, he talked about his special day: "What a race this was, I still can't believe it! It's like a dream. This morning, at the briefing, we talked about the finale, because we knew the tricky and technical corner will be the key to winning the stage and our plan was to be first and second as we entered in that bend. My sprint was until the corner, but as Fernando didn't try to overtake me, deciding to protect me instead, I went all the way to the line. I want to thank him for this and also to the entire team for their huge work and support!"
In the Tour de San Luis, his first race with Etixx – Quick-Step, Maximiliano Richeze wore the leader's jersey, but a crash in which he was involved later in the week forced him to stay out of competition for more than a month, due to a bone fissure on the neck of the left femur. For that reason, the win he got in the Tour de Suisse – where he showed a blistering form – was even more significant and rewarding:
I am always supporting our team, I'm always the last guy before our sprinter goes for it, so to finally have the opportunity to try and get a victory is really great.
"The start of the year wasn't easy, with that injury and the recovery period during which I had to walk with the help of a crutch, but these things are in the past and now I am living the day and enjoying this beautiful moment. To be the first Argentinian stage winner in the Tour de Suisse is a big achievement, which makes me proud and happy."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele