Igor Anton of Euskatel sprinted from the back of a four-man group to take the win in the Queen stage of the Tour de Romandie, a stage dominatd by rain and mountains. Predictor-Lotto's Chris Horner finished third in the stage and took over the leader's jersey, dropping Paolo Savoldelli to fourth.
A group of Anton, Horner, Thomas Dekker (Rabobank), and John Gadret (AG2R) formed out of the remnants of the peloton with only a few kilometers to go in the finale. As they approached the finish line, Horner opened the sprint from the front position, but was passed by Dekker, who was ultimately passed at the last minute by Anton, much to the Dutch man's disgust.
Horner took over the GC lead, with Anton second, Dekker third and previous leader Savoldelli fourth, 15 seconds down.
"The Tour de Romandie is a great race and this was a tough mountain stage so it's a great win for a climber," Anton said. "I'm not a time trial specialist but there is a climb at the finish tomorrow so who knows."
The new leader was a happy to settle for the leader's jersey. "I always prefer to win stages, but the others wouldn't let me have both the yellow jersey and the stage win," said Horner. "At the finish, it was a very simple situation - if you want a slice of the pie, you can't go for the whole pie, you can't gamble as Pinotti did yesterday."
Horner doesn't see himself as a favorite in Sunday's time trial, saying, "If I had to pick someone now, I would pick Dekker. He looked incredibly strong to me today and he is an excellent time trial specialist. If I led by 30 seconds, I would be much more confident. But it's not the case and I will be happy to finish in the top five."
How it unfolded
The peloton set out on a cold and wet day without eight riders: Robbie McEwen, David Millar, Serhiy Gonchar, Andrea Tonti, Davide Vigano, Jaime Castaneda, Julian Dean, and Fabio Sacchi. A breakaway group formed at kilometer 17, a group which was eventually made up of 10 riders, Andrey Mizourov (Astana), Benoit Poilvet (CA), Andreas Dietziker (LPR), Chris Anker Sorensen (CSC), David Lopez (EC), Giuseppe Guerini (T-Mobile), Gorazd Stangelj (Lampre), Laurent Brochard (Bouygues Telecom), David Moncoutié (Cofidis), and Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel). The group rode well together and built up a steady lead of over four minutes.
Coming down the Cat. 1 climb on the Pilon, the escapees had very bad conditions, with heavy rain, a wet road and even fog. They were all obviously riding as carefully as possible and not taking any chances, but it didn't help. Mouncoutie slipped, apparently on the stripe in the road, and fell, Although it at first looked as if he was uninjured, he was soon lying on the side of the road, waiting for medical transport. He was diagnosed with a broken femur and scheduled for surgery directly on Saturday evening.
The lead group hit the feed zone at the bottom of the mountain with a lead of about three and half minutes. As they started up the next climb, with 55 kilometers still to go, Lampre's Stangelj took off on his own up the mountain. He quickly gained about a minute's advantage in the pouring rain. Guerini led the reamining escapees up the mountain, as he so often did in the past for his former captain Jan Ullrich. His relentless pressure was enough to drop Sorensen and Dietziker.
They retained a three minute lead over the Astana-led peloton. The team had to momentarily give up the lead when Savoldelli had to stop for a mechanical, but his teammates quickly brought him back.
Meanwhile, Stangelj doggedly continued his wet and lonely way up the mountain in a lighter but steady rain, with his lead over the rest of the escape group climbing to nearly a minute and a half, with the peloton three and half minutes behind them.
The pace was too slow for some of the peloton, and attacks started. QuickStep's Schwab broke out and was joined by Triki Beltran of Liquigas and Rigoberto Uran of Unibet.
A tram track in the road caught Txurruka in the leading group, bringing him down.
With 33 kilometers to go, there was a confusing situation with bad weather -- fog and heavy rain. All of the groups were falling apart and it was impossible to know who was where. At 25 kilometers, Stangelj was still riding steadily in the lead, with Beltran, Brochard and Uran now following him. The peloton, with two Astana riders in front of Savoldelli, overtook the former breakaway group. The trio around Beltran was caught only a few minutes later.
Four Astana helpers led the peloton as it it drove under the arch starting the final climb of the day, a peloton that was noticeably smaller. Stangelj's lead was getting smaller, too, only 1.02. His dream was over only three kilometers later, as the peloton drove by him in the rain. Savoldelli had only one helper at this point, Eddy Mazzoleni, who held the tempo high to prevent further attacks. But the tempo wasn't enough to discourage Horner, who stuck on Savoldelli's rear wheel like a shadow.
The group kept growing smaller and smaller, and with eight kilometers to go, Lampre's Sylvester Szmyd got yway for a small lead. There were only about 10 in the group at this point, with Mazzoleni still leading.
Euskatel's Anton shot out of the group with five kilometers to go, quickly joining and then going by Szmyd. Mazzoleni finally paid the price for his hard work and had to fall back, leaving Savoldelli to lead the small group.
Shortly thereafter, Horner, Dekker and Gadret jumped out and joined Anton. Savoldelli didn't try to join the break, but continued riding in his own rhythm. The four riders remaining in his group stayed behind him, forcing him to do the work to try and retain his leader's jersey.
At 1.5 kilometers to go, Horner gestured to the others to share the lead work, which they did until the usual guessing games started shortly after the Devil's Triangle with one kilometer to go. Horner opened the sprint from the front. Dekker overtook him and went for the win, but was passed at the last minute by Anton. The Dutch rider gestured in disgust as he crossed the finish line. He filed a protest that Anton had interfered with him in the sprint, but the race jury turned him down.
Savoldelli came in only 16 seconds later, but it was enough to cost him his jersey. Only seconds later, Joaquim Rodriguez of Caisse d'Epargne slid in the rain in the final meters, making a spectacular crash.
Sunday's closing stage is a 20.4 kilometer time trial over a demanding course through Lausanne. It features a climb of 252 meters over the last seven kilometers.