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Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) proved to have the best legs at the top of the long climb to...
Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) proved to have the best legs at the top of the long climb to Flumserberg, as he broke away from his six remaining rivals to take the stage win by six seconds over Kim Kirchen (High Road) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre). Anton also took the leader's jersey from Oscar Freire (Rabobank) while pre-race favourite Andreas Klöden (Astana) lost 30 seconds on the final climb.
"When I finished second in the Euskal Bizkleta, I said that it is very difficult to win, and that one must take advantage of the opportunities," said the 25 year-old. "Today I have not failed. I am very thankful to my team-mates for the confidence that have shown in me.
"On the final ascent there were a lot of attacks. I knew that I had to be careful with people like Cunego," he added. "Kirchen is also fast... The last 300 metres seemed to me to never end, but I have achieved a very important victory for the team."
The stage was marked by rain and a long escape by Swiss AG2R rider Martin Elmiger. He left the peloton at km 39 and built up a maximum lead of 18 minutes before hitting the first climb in the middle of the stage. Once the climbs started, his lead gradually disintegrated, falling dramatically in the last 20 km until he was passed by the remains of the peloton at the start of the Flumserberg climb with 10 km to go.
That led to a furious finale, with the group of 30 or so, including all the favourites, slimming down to seven riders, with Anton sprinting out to take the win. Elmiger finished the day 155th of 158 riders, over 17 minutes down.
Much of the race can be described in two words: Martin Elmiger. After an uneasy beginning, with multiple unsuccessful escape attempts, the AG2R rider finally went clear at kilometre 39. He got away and stayed away, as the peloton was content to let him try his luck on this difficult stage. His lead was up to 18 minutes when the Swiss rider came to the first climb of the day, the category three Sattel.
The first 100 km of the stage were rolling, but at the mid-way point, the first mountain appeared, and it was to be followed by two more, including a category one mountain-top finish. Once Elmiger hit the climbs, his lead started coming down. Also coming down was rain, sometimes lightly and sometimes not so lightly.
Elmiger lost three minutes on that climb and took several risks on the descent. After being alone for 100 km, his lead had shrunk to 10 minutes. With 40 km to go he came to the next climb, the category three Kerenzerberg. Elmiger was starting to lose time rapidly by this point, as the chasing peloton was now moving quickly enough to drop the first riders off the back.
With 14 km to go, Elmiger started up the final climb, the category one Flumserberg, facing 11 km with an average gradient of 9.5 percent. He went into it with a 1'18 lead, but very quickly the peloton caught and passed him.
A large group started up the final climb, but riders quickly started dropping off the back. Yellow jersey Oscar Freire (Rabobank) had made it that far with the leaders, but was unable to keep up on the climb. Gianni Meersman of FDJ was the first to attack, with 8 km to go. He was soon joined by CSC's Jens Voigt. The Belgian was soon caught again, but Voigt struggled on alone on the wet, steep, narrow road.
Astana led the chase as the rain started up again, and the remaining riders tried to get away. Fränk Schleck (CSC) and Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) flew out of the rapidly diminishing group, as they moved near the top of the mountain to meet heavy rain, fog and poor visibility.
They passed Voigt, and then in turn were passed by Gerolsteiner's Oliver Zaugg. The little Swiss rider was caught at 400 metres, but by this point Igor Anton was coming on strong, and was the first to come over the crest. He shot away with 150 metres to go on the short downhill finish, followed by High Road's Kim Kirchen, Lampre's Damiano Cunego and Schleck six seconds later.