By Shane Stokes in Nauders
At 80 kilos, few would consider Fabian Cancellara to be a climber. However he finished ahead of many lightweight riders on yesterday's third stage of the Tour de Suisse, which hit the summit of the hors catégorie Flüelapass with 60 kilometres to go and then scaled the third category Norbertshöhe just before the two kilometre descent to the line.
"It's not that I am a climber, more that I am a fighter," he said after the stage. "After the Flüelapass I was already a bit tired because of my weight. I will certainly never be a climber.
"I will be proud to start tomorrow morning with the yellow jersey on my shoulders. Today I felt that the jersey once again added to the strength in my legs. That helped me arrive here with the [chasing] group and defend the lead."
World time trial champ Cancellara raced to victory in the prologue on Saturday. He's known for his ability against the clock, but on Monday he took on the top sprinters to place third on the stage and retain yellow. Yesterday, he dug deep to hold on over a testing course.
One year ago he was left off the CSC team for the Tour de France. This time round, his scorching form means that he is a certainty for the race. He played down any suggestion that missing out last year was spurring him on here. "No, it is not revenge," he told the media. "This is the Tour de Suisse, it is an important race in my home country and that is why I have fought so hard.
"After the last climb I was not up to date with the full situation. I thought that Martin Elminger was in the group ahead and I thought that he could perhaps get the jersey. I made a big effort to catch this group and at that moment, I had the thought to keep going and pass this group. However my legs were a bit wasted then so I was happy enough to stay with them."
The stage to Nauders was won by first year pro Alessandro Proni, who went clear with Daniel Navarro (Astana) and Luis Pasamontes (Unibet) after approximately 21 kilometres of racing. He then attacked them on the final climb and hung on by seven seconds, netting his first victory as a professional.
"Proni was a deserving winner of the stage after his breakaway today. It was a very good performance. To tell the truth, at the end I did not know Proni was ahead. I thought that Elminger's group was the front and that these could be sprinting for the win. The situation was therefore a bit confusing, we didn't know exactly what was happening ahead."
Cancellara got great support from the CSC team during the race, with all of the riders helping him. However he said that near the end, he told the team's GC leaders to look after their own interests from that point.
"At Susch [47.4 km to go] I talked to Schleck and Sastre and said to them that they have to defend their own chances as they are the riders for the GC. If riders like Marchante or Cunego attack, they have to go with them. I said that I would do what I could myself to defend.
"I didn't know that it would be possible to finish with the jersey on my shoulders and I am very happy about that. But it's been a long time since I suffered like I did today and I think that tomorrow could be a very different situation."
The Tour de Suisse continues today with a 167.2 kilometre stage to Triesenberg-Malbun in Liechtenstein. Apart from two intermediate sprints, the riders will hit the seconds category climbs of Arlberg Passhöhe [83.2 km after the start] and Steg/Malbun, which tops out just 1.6 kilometres from the line.