Portugal's Rui Costa (Movistar) celebrated a stage 7 victory in the Tour de Suisse on Friday. As a result of his performance in this queen stage, he jumped into second in the overall, with Sunday's mountain time trial still likely to decide the final outcome.
At the end of the longest stage of this year's race, covering 205km from Meilen to La Punt, with four categorized climbs including the Albulapass (HC) at more than 2,300 meters above sea level, Costa outsprinted Bauke Mollema (Blanco) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC).
"Our goal today was to take some seconds on the riders ahead of us in the overall," said Costa. "We also won the stage, and I'm super happy."
"I wasn't really thinking of the stage win, but at the end of the descent, there were 500 meters of flat and a couple of turns that allowed me breathing a bit before the sprint."
The action started with 4km from the top of the climb with an attack from Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) breaking the ice and receiving a fast response from the Team Movistar leader. The four-man leading group, which Costa tried to keep alive with several moves before the crest, went for the fast descent until the finish line with 30 seconds of advantage over a second bunch of favorites including Mathias Frank (BMC) and Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff), who are first and second, respectively, in the overall standings.
Costa kept pushing into the downhill and initially dropped Pinot before doing the same with Mollema, the Dutchman ultimately bridging for the final meters.
In a scary moment, an inflatable banner collapsed over the road with 2km remaining and made Costa lose precious time, but did not lessen the ambitions by the 2012 Tour de Suisse winner, who launched the sprint in the lead and was strong enough to hold off his two rivals.
"It was a pity to lose time with the banner thing," said Costa. "I think we might have lost 10 seconds there and they might become decisive for the overall, but the important thing is that I saw myself strong in view of Sunday's TT. I had really good legs all over the climb. When the Saxo Bank riders were pushing, I stayed with Kreuziger asked Roche not to push so strongly. That's why I knew I had to go full gas as soon as Mollema jumped, because we had to take time for the overall."
It was Costa's 14th career victory and second of this year, after the one notched up in Amorebieta. Costa now trails race leader Frank by 13 seconds.
Before Sunday's final time trial showdown is a relatively calm stage on Saturday over 182km from Zernez to Bad Ragaz and featuring the Cat. 3 Luzisteig in the closing stages.
"We'll try to spend tomorrow's stage as easy as possible and give it all on Sunday. It's not only Frank and Kreuziger, but also Mollema, Pinot or even Van Garderen. I know the time trial's route and it's a really hard one. The wind might be crucial into the first 15 kilometers, because there's almost no protection and, should the wind blow like today, it will be a headwind. It's going to be really demanding."