By Shane Stokes in Verbier
Showing improving form after a somewhat difficult spring, Irish rider Philip Deignan rode strongly on the mountainous sixth stage of the Tour of Switzerland. The AG2R La Mondiale competitor went clear in an eleven-man breakaway group on the first climb of the day, the 2479-metre Col du Nufenen, and later rode aggressively in the final 15 kilometres.
He got into a four man breakaway group on the final climb up to the ski village of Verbier, and then pressed ahead with Mathias Frank (Gerolsteiner) with seven kilometres to go.
Realising that the bunch was closing, Deignan did the bulk of the work and was therefore vulnerable when Frank attacked three kilometres later. However, both were caught and passed by a group of race favourites, from which Kim Kirchen (Team High Road) proved strongest and took both the stage victory and the race leader's yellow jersey.
Deignan ultimately finished 26th, two minutes and 14 seconds behind Kirchen, but said afterwards that he was happy with his improving form. "My form has been a little bit up and down but hopefully this is the start of a good period," he stated. "We were just missing an extra two or three minutes at the bottom of the climb, I think. It is a pity because the group was never really working well together, there was always a few guys sitting on. The gap went up to ten minutes but could have been more. It was hard with the headwind all day, there was a really strong headwind in the valley and we were just missing a little bit on the last climb. It is a pity.
"It was really good for the morale anyway. Today a lot of strong guys were in the break because we went on the first col, it was 30 kilometres long. I had the legs to get into the break so that was a good sign, and so too the fact that I was going well at the end."
He may try again in this Tour de Suisse. "I don't know what I'll do for the rest of the race... I'll see how the legs are. Maybe I will go for another break. I'd like to go flat out for the mountain time trial as well, see how high up I can get. I will see what the legs are like."
Deignan received confirmation this week that he and Nicolas Roche have been selected to compete in the Olympic Games road race for Ireland. Neither will ride this year's Tour de France and so they will do a training camp in the Alps instead during July, with Beijing being an important target for him.
"I am delighted to be selected," he said. "It is going to be my big objective for the year. The Olympics only come around every four years so I am looking forward to it. It is on a hilly course which could suit me, but it suits a lot of other guys as well. There is nowhere really to hide. In other years you could sit in the bunch but this year I think the circuit and the climbs mean that there is nowhere to hide. Hopefully I will have the legs."