By Anthony Tan in Ulrichen
Horner has form coming out of his ears
After doing much of the work up the final climb of the Furka Pass and finishing in the first group behind stage and race winner Aitor Gonzalez in yesterday's stage of the Tour de Suisse, Chris Horner was understandably over the moon about his performances thus far.
"I've got form comin' out of my ears right now!" exclaimed Horner to Cyclingnews straight after the stage finish.
"Every day, it's just getting better and better. Today, the descent was the hardest part, because you had to go maximum to try and catch Gonzalez. I honestly don't know how he stayed [away], but we had three of us rotating - we should have had five - I don't know what the others were doing...
"It was me and Rogers pretty much. Rogers did his share - he did more than I did; he was so fast through the corners... it was almost like riding by myself, because he just dropped me through the corners, he was so fast."
Another guy that impressed the 33 year-old American was Gonzalez - so much so that Horner was a little lost for words when asked if the Spaniard was simply too strong. "I don't know...Evidently he won - there's no doubt about that - but how he could have stayed off on the descent against three of us working like that is pretty impressive. That guy's got some good form."
With his long-awaited Tour de France debut to look forward to, Horner can go into Le Grand Boucle with high hopes, safe in the knowledge that he can not only compete with the best in Europe, but also beat them at their own game.
Just the finishing touches left for Brad
Although finishing four minutes down on the final day and missing out on a place on the podium at the Tour de Suisse, eventually finishing eighth overall, Bradley McGee (Française des Jeux) was satisfied with what he'd achieved, and says just the finishing touches are all that's needed before the Tour de France.
"Oh yeah - this race was perfect - I was happy to ride it out. Now I'll just go home, rest up, go sit on a hill for a week and come up good for the Tour," he said to Cyclingnews.
Asked about the decisive final stage, the 29 year-old said the back-to-back days in the mountains simply caught up with him: "At the top of the second climb, I was nailed, and I started shoving some gels down, thinking of anything I could to get some power in the legs, but I was f***ed.
"At the bottom of the last one, I just went, 'Oh my God...' It was just a battle from the bottom of the last one till the finish... I was surprised I only lost four minutes; it's actually quite comforting to know that even when I'm completely shelled like that, I can hold them."
And how about the ride of race winner Aitor Gonzalez? "Unnnbelievable. I mean, it's a climbers' race... look at the profile - it was always going to come down to anyone who could really launch into this last day, and he just sat there, sat there, sat there... apparently he climbed that last climb in the big ring."
McGee added this year's Tour de Suisse has "an old-man hardness" about it - which he admits he's "getting there" himself - and Gonzalez had the mind and obviously the legs to win. But because of the difficulty, he says recovery will be the number one priority in the week ahead.
"It's all there," he said. "Now, I've just got to recover, put the finishing touches in, do a bit of motorbike work. Freshening up is the main thing, because this race has been so intense, so fast - very similar to the Tour in itself - so I've got to go in fresh-minded and [with] fresh legs."
Cyclingnews caught up with Davitamon-Lotto's lead GC man for the Tour de France, Cadel Evans, before the final stage of this year's Tour de Suisse. The luckless 28 year-old fractured his collarbone yet another time in a training accident around a month or so ago. Thankfully, the fracture wasn't too bad (as far as broken bones go!), and Evans was able to resume training indoors until it was safe to get out on the open road again.
So far at the Tour de Suisse, Cadel has been riding within himself all week, not going too far into the red, but would today be a day to see the real Cadel? "Noooo... for a sprinter or something, they can win when they're at 80 percent with lucky positioning or picking the right move - but for a climber with these hills, when you're 10 percent off, there's nothing you can do," he said with a smile.
"Today's a bit different, downhill finish and that; yesterday is where you really see it... I'm just following [wheels], and if I've got the legs to do something, sure, I'll try. But don't expect anything great from me!," Evans chuckled.
So who's his pick, then? "It's going to be a good race today. Mick's [Michael Rogers] riding really well, but there's a couple of other people that are going to be really good here and have a bit more depth in their teams on a course like this... Euskaltel, maybe Illes Balears... but more Euskaltel and Jan [Ullrich's team].
Evans also believed that after what happened yesterday, Aitor Gonzalez will be the man to watch: "Yeah, he certainly seems back to his own self; he had a few quieter years there, but for me, he's the interesting one to watch today."
He was right...
Hammond ready for a break
"The race doesn't really suit me with all the mountains, but I've been feeling okay each day," Roger Hammond said before the start. "[Discovery's] a different team, in that there's often someone you need to ride for, although it's often a lot more fulfilling than riding around each day with no purpose."
On whether he's made a full recovery after his crash in Paris-Roubaix, Roger said: "Sort of, but it's still bothering me a bit with a twisted pelvis." Speaking about his immediate objectives, Hammond added: "I'll be riding the [British] national championships and then taking a break, before building up to the Benelux after that."
How badly does he want another British national title? "Not much. It's nice to have, but I've had it for two years now, and it won't be as straightforward as last year."
Kirchen looking forward to Le Tour
Speaking with the national champion of Luxembourg before the start of today's final stage of the Tour de Suisse, Kim Kirchen told Cyclingnews he's been saving himself in order to be in the best possible shape at the Tour de France, where he hopes a stage win will come his way.
"I didn't have a good time trial [Kirchen finished 27th on Stage 2, 2'08 behind winner Jan Ullrich - ed.], but each day, I've got better and better," said Kirchen. "Yesterday, I felt very comfortable, but I didn't go too deep because I'm just thinking of the Tour."
The strong-as-an-ox rider of 26 years, who celebrates his 27th birthday one day after the Tour starts in Fromentine on July 2, added he was more than satisfied with his season to date. In February, he took wins at the GP Chiasso and Trofeo Laigueglia, and Kirchen continued this good form all the way through the Spring Classics, where he just fell short of victory in La Flèche Wallonne to an unstoppable Danilo Di Luca.
"I started really strong at the beginning of the year, so my preparation is good, maybe not for the general classification, but good for stages in the Tour. The legs are good, the form is good, and I hope I can do well [at the Tour de France]; the most important thing is that I feel good."
Asked if Alessandro Petacchi's non-participation at the Tour de France gives him a little more freedom, Kirchen said: "No, I don't think so. Last year, there was four or five riders riding for Petacchi, but I've always [had the freedom to] play my cards... it's the same for me as last year.
Finally, does this one-day talent have any stage race ambitions in the future? "I think something like the Tour de Suisse or Paris-Nice might be good for me, but the three big stage races that go for about three weeks is a little too hard," he said.