The 33-year-old attacked right after the start, being caught just a few kilometers before the finish, in wintry conditions.
On Friday, the peloton left Switzerland for a visit to Sölden, in Austria, where stage 7 was due to come to a conclusion on Rettenbachferner, probably the toughest climb in Europe, a 12.3-km long monster, averaging 10.4%. After covering 7 neutralised kilometers, Iljo Keisse attacked from the bunch, making it into the escape for the second day in a row. The Belgian was soon followed by Matthias Brandle (IAM Cycling) and the KOM classification leader Antwan Tolhoek (Roompot Oranje), and they built a margin of 12 minutes before hitting the challenging Hochtannbergpass, the first categorized climb of the stage, which was making its debut in the Tour de Suisse.
Arlbergpass came next, and the advantage began to drop, as Team Sky was pushing a strong pace in the pack, but the breakaway still had around 9 minutes in the Oetz valley, where Tolhoek couldn't keep up with Iljo and Matthias, the main breakaway artists of the day. The duo reached the bottom of Rettenbachferner and stayed together for a couple of kilometers more, just as big snowflakes began to make their presence felt, before being reeled in by the GC contenders. Shortly after, seeing that yellow jersey Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) was suffering, Tejay van Garderen (BMC) attacked and soloed to the win, followed by Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin), who moved into the overall lead.
For Iljo – a track specialist with countless wins in the Six Days of Ghent, but also a rider who in the past years proved his talent also on the road – it was the second day in a row that he booked a place in the escape. On Thursday, he was of great help for teammate Maximiliano Richeze, who finished second in Amden and as a result took the points jersey, which he continues to hold going into the final week-end of the race.
"It was a very long stage and in the final I was really tired and paid for my effort, especially as it came after two days which I spent in the break, for a total of more than 300 kilometers. On the other hand, I'm doing well and feeling good, which is great for me, considering it was a very hard week so far, with bad weather since the start. I'm also happy for bringing my contribution in the flat stages and being a protagonist in the mountains, although I'm not a climber", said Iljo Keisse, who's racing the Tour de Suisse for the first time in his career.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele