By Susan Westemeyer
Francesco De Bonis of Gerolsteiner and Astana's Andreas Klöden put on amazing shows of strength Saturday afternoon in 126.5km stage four of the Tour de Romandie from Sion to Zinal. The 26 year-old Italian joined an early escape group and was able to hold on to sprint to the stage win - his first professional win. Klöden held on to his overall lead by nearly single-handedly controlling the chasing group on the final climbs. John Gadret of AG2R finished second in the dramatic finale and Manuel Beltran of Liquigas was third.
"The escape left very early and there was a lot of uncertainty in the middle," De Bonis said. "When I found myself alone, I felt very tired and following Beltran used up a lot of strength. At 100 meters to go I only saw Gadret and I was still very afraid. I didn't believe it until 50 meters before the finish!" His Directeur Sportif, Reimund Dietzen, called it "a dream ride".
The 25 year-old neo-pro took his first pro win in dramatic fashion. He joined an escape group which formed early, and went after the King of the Mountain points. On the final climb, only 20 km or so before the finish, he took off from the remains of the group to take the points that would assure him the coveted jersey, and just kept on going. Beltran caught up with him and the two went under the Flamme Rouge together. Gadret came up from behind and shot past them, looking like he would take the stage. But young De Bonis was not to be denied. He surprised the French rider with a surprise attack and passed him with 100 meters to go, crossing the finish line with a three second advantage and a joyous demonstration.
Only the day before, the Italian had made his mark. He finished 20th in Friday's time trial, as the best of his team, 1'03" behind winner Klöden. It was an impressive performance by the rider who is better known for the climbing abilities he demonstrated Saturday.
Klöden was equally impressive in defending his yellow leader's jersey. Near the end of the race he had only Maxim Iglinsky at his side, and in the end the slender German was on his own. But he showed that he was rightfully team captain and race leader, often leading the pack up the long climbs, fast enough to drop the slower riders off the back and to pick up time on those ahead of him. He goes into the final stage with a lead of 35 seconds over Roman Kreuzgier of Liquigas and 43 seconds over Marco Pinotti of High Road.
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Tour de Romandie's stage four.