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Stage 8 of the Tour de Suisse, from Tübach to Schaffhausen.
On paper, it’s a rare day for the sprinters at the Tour de Suisse, but the 3rd and 4th category climbs in the finale might well cause problems for some of the fast men.
The peloton set off under charcoal grey skies and heavy rain this morning, but that didn't discourage the attackers. Lloyd Mondory (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Andreas Kloden (RadioShack) were among the men to try their luck as soon as the flag dropped, but they missed out on the break of the day that established shortly afterwards.
Inside the opening 10km, Luca Paolini (Katusha), Francisco Ventoso (Movistar), Jan Barta (NetApp) and Jaroslaw Marycz (Saxo Bank-SunGard) forced their way clear and they soon built up a decent lead.
With Ventoso the best-placed on GC at over an hour behind race leader Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD), the quartet were no threat to the yellow jersey and they were quickly given their day pass.
After 30km of racing, they had 6:05 on the bunch, and that gap rose to maximum of 8 minutes at the 70km mark. Since then, the rain has eased off, the peloton has roused itself from itself slumber and accordingly the gap has begun to tumble gently.
As we pick up the action with 56km to race, the break's lead is down to 4 minutes.
Danilo Hondo (Lampre-ISD) is the man leading the peloton behind and he's beginning to stretch out the peloton slightly on the this lengthy false flat.
The pace isn't too hectic just yet mind. The sun has poked its way through the clouds, and many in the bunch are taking the opportunity to drop their race capes and wet gear back to their team cars. The serious business clearly starts here.
Damiano Cunego is safely positioned near the front of the peloton, his pink and blue armwarmers clashing spectacularly with the yellow jersey, but he just about pulls it off.
It's interesting to see Francisco Ventoso in this break, given that this stage already seemed suited to sprinters like him.
Ventoso didn't ghost in to this break by accident either. Paolini, Barta and Marycz had a small gap on the bunch early on but Ventoso made it across alone, the last man to jump aboard the train.
Ventoso took a fine stage win at the Giro d'Italia in Fiuggi, ahead of Alessandro Petacchi. There weren't too many mass finishes at the corsa rosa this year, but that uphill finish was arguably the pick of the lot.
Incidentally, the big news this morning affects the man Ventoso beat that day, Alessandro Petacchi. The Italian federation has announced that no riders who have been sanctioned for doping will compete for Italy at the world championships, meaning that Petacchi's name can be stricken from the list of potential winners on what seems set to be a course for the sprinters.
That said, Danilo Di Luca is set to appeal that ruling, so it could be a long and polemical build-up to Copenhagen from an Italian point of view.
The leading quartet are continuing to collaborate well here. They'll be well aware that Ventoso is the fastest man on paper, but with the bunch just 4 minutes back, they don't have any time to play cat and mouse just yet.
Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) is in the green jersey of best climber and he seems in relaxed form as he sits in the wheel of Fabian Cancellara. After a difficult start to this race, the Luxembourg rider showed a timely glimmer of form on the way to second place yesterday.
The break is now approaching Neuhausen am Rheinfall, home to the Rhine falls, Europe's largest plain waterfalls. Ventoso is the man pushing the pace here and Barta is visibly struggling to hold on as they negotiate a short incline.
Barta gesticulates at Ventoso when he pulls over. He wasn't happy with the Spaniard's pressing at this early stage.
Crash for Barta. The Czech completely misjudged a right hand bend and slide into the barriers. The pace wasn't too high and he's quickly back on his bike.
His companions aren't hanging around, however, and Barta will have his work cut out to get back on.
Barta crashed just as the quartet were coming past the Rhine Falls, perhaps he was distracted... Meanwhile, Leopard Trek are leading the chase in the bunch behind. 3:36 the gap.
The bunch comes through the same technical section where Barta fell, but they're understandably travelling at a sensible pace as they pass the Rhine Falls.
Meanwhile, Barta has made his way back up to Ventoso, Marycz and Paolini. The four in front have 3:30 over the bunch.
Yesterday Lampre had Rabobank and RadioShack to control the bunch for them, and today it's Leopard Trek who are doing the honours. Tomorrow, it'll be up to Damiano Cunego alone to defend his lead, however. He has 1:23 and 1:36 over the Rabobank duo of Steven Kruijswijk and Bauke Mollema, but Levi Leipheimer at 1:59 could be the danger man in the time trial. Frank Schleck lies 4th at 1:41.
Ventoso leads under the intermediate sprint. The break didn't contest the placings, and Paolini, Marycz and Ventoso are continuing to tap out a decent tempo. For his part, Barta is showing signs of suffering, and allowing gaps to appear every time the road climbs slightly.
HTC-Highroad and Sky are also beginning to contribute manpower to the pursuit, and the gap is hovering just above the 3-minute mark.
The unity of the break is beginning to splinter somewhat. Ventoso and Marycz ghosted clear briefly. Paolini had little trouble in getting across, but once again Barta showed signs that he is struggling.
Ventoso certainly isn't hiding his strength here, but with the gap down to 2:45, he might be fighting a losing battle.
Paolini attacks from the break, and Ventoso and Marycz make it across.
Barta makes it across again, but as he does, Paolini goes again, this time with Marycz on his wheel.
Barta and Ventoso are going to have to work together to make it across here, but the end product of all this attacking is a further reduction in the break's advantage. The only men benefiting from the fractious nature of the break are the fast men stretching their legs in the peloton behind.
HTC-Highroad are really stepping up their efforts behind, and the gap is down to 2:10.
Marycz and Paolini are maintaining their gap over the bickering Ventoso and Barta.
Paolini and Marycz are glad to have left Ventoso and Barta behind, the pair are working smoothly together. Behind them, Ventoso and Barta have sat up and are waiting to be swallowed up by the bunch.
Barta and Ventoso are duly caught by the bunch, as HTC-Highroad and Sky up the pace. Mark Cavendish is looking comfortable surrounded by a phalanx of teammates. The Manxman's main objective here is to build form for the Tour de France, but assuming he's there in the finale, he'll surely be the man to beat.
Up front Paolini grits his teeth on the 3rd category Hallauerberg, while Martin Velits leads the chasing bunch.
Velits' efforts are really telling here, the gap is down to just 1:20. At the back of the bunch, a number of riders are losing contact as the road pitches upwards. Stijn Devolder is among those who has been dropped.
Movistar have taken over the pace-setting now on the climb. This must be premeditated move, and they're looking either to shed the group of sprinters or try and set up an attack from a rider like Pablo Lastras or Branislau Samoilau.
Andy Schleck attacks from the bunch approaching the summit of the climb. He doesn't need the points as he is assured of the mountains jersey, and his effort is thinning out the group. Leipheimer and Cunego are closely marking him.
Cavendish and some of the other sprinters look to have lost a bit of ground here, but as they begin the descent, they should get back on.
Meanwhile, Paolini and Marycz have just 50 seconds of a lead.
Thor Hushovd managed to stay at the front of the peloton, and his Garmin-Cervelo team is putting down the hammer in a bid to eliminate Cavendish. It's quite a small group up here, perhaps 30 riders, but the gap back to Cavendish et al is not insurmountable.
Sylvain Chavanel, Tejay Van Garderen, Jens Voigt and the Schleck brothers are among the riders up here with Cunego, Hushovd et al.
Heinrich Haussler is riding hard at the front of the reduced peloton in the service of Hushovd.
The front half of the bunch is stretched out in a long line on this descent, and hopefully we'll be able to establish if Steven Kruijswijk is up here with Cunego. 20 seconds the gap back to the Cavendish group. Andre Greipel was caught on the wrong side of the split.
Martin Velits is leading the chase for HTC-Highroad behind, with Omega Pharma-Lotto helping out. Matt Goss seems to be in the Hushovd-Cunego group, along with Peter Sagan.
At the foot of the final climb, Paolini and Marycz still have 25 seconds on the Garmin-led group and 48 seconds on the second peloton which is being pulled along by HTC-Highroad and Omega Pharma-Lotto.
Bauke Mollema is chasing alone to get back on to the Hushovd group. It appears as though he had a mechanical problem. Andy Schleck is driving at the front now, and they are on the cusp of catching Paolini and Marycz.
Kruijswijk is still in the lead group, but Matti Breschel has dropped back to try and bring Mollema back up. Meanwhile, Paolini and Marycz have been caugt.
Andy Schleck has put in a huge turn and now he pulls over to allow Jens Voigt through. Mollema sits up and waits for the HTC-led group.
Surely it's game over for Cavendish and Greipel, the gap is out to 45 seconds thanks to Leopard-Trek's pressing. Cancellara is not in this lead group, and it's hard to pick out a potential stage winner for Leopard Trek here, they must be working to move Frank Schleck up the standings.
Andy Schleck has sat up and is waiting to be caught by the HTC chase group. Surprising that he didn't try to hold the wheels until the finish.
Cunego is safely up here in the lead group, although there is a conspicuous lack of Lampre jerseys up with him.
30 seconds the gap with 5km to go, but it's surely too late for HTC and Cavendish.
They do have Matt Goss up here, however, he could well be the man to watch if it comes down to a sprint. Meanwhile, Leopard Trek continue to try and ride Frank Schleck onto the podium, with Jens Voigt pressing hard on the front.
Gerdemann and Monfort take over for Leopard Trek now inside the final four kilometres.
Some rain beginning to fall again as the leaders approach the finish. They'll need to be careful on the final bend...
Leopard Trek's high pace is discouraging any attacking.
Attack from Wouter Poels (Vanansoleil-DCM), but Quick Step bring him back. They're riding for Ciolek.
Hushovd, Sagan and Goss won't want Poels to stay clear.
Poels is caught. Inside the final kilometre, Daniel Oss takes up the pace-setting for Sagan.
They're safely through the final bend.
Ben Swift (Sky) opens the sprint.
Peter Sagan looks boxed in, but comes past Swift inside the final 100 metres to take the win.
A fine win from the young Slovak rider, he had too much for Swift. Goss came through for second ahead of Swift, while Thor Hushovd could only manage 4th.
Swift launched his sprint early, but it was a fine effort. There was simply nothing to do against Sagan.
The second group came home 47 seconds down, with Bauke Mollema among them.
Sagan was in the box seat initially behind Oss, but when Swift launched his sprint, Sagan seemed to be shut in. But the youngster held his nerve, and simply waited for an opening to rip past Swift on his left.
Goss came around Swift on the other side, but it was always going to be a tall order to beat the on-form Sagan. He'll be a man to watch in the Tour de France's opening week. He won by over a bike length.
Overall, Bauke Mollema has dropped to 5th overall, 2:11 behind Cunego. The big beneficiary was Frank Schleck, who now lies 3rd, 1:41 down.
Koldo Fernandez managed to slip into 4th place on the stage, just ahead of Hushovd.
1.Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
2.Matt Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad
3.Ben Swift (GBr) Sky
4.Koldo Fernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
5.Thor Hushovd (Nor) Garmin-Cervélo)
6.Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team
7.Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Quick Step
8.Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky
9.Simon Clarke (Aus) Astana
10.Tejay Van Garderen (USA) HTC-Highroad
1 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD 31:01:49
2 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:36
3 Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:01:41
4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team RadioShack 0:01:59
5 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:02:11
6 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:02:38
7 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:03:10
8 Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Katusha Team 0:03:11
9 Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing Team 0:03:20
10 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) HTC-Highroad 0:03:22
Thanks for joining us for today's live coverage of the Tour de Suisse. We'll be back for tomorrow's concluding time trial, but in the mean time, stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full results, report, pictures and news from Switzerland.