Swiss rider Michael Albasini (Liquigas-Bianchi) won the fifth stage of Tour de Suisse, despite having spent some energy increasing his lead in the sprinters' competition during the 172 kilometre stage. Jan Ullrich and his T-mobile team enjoyed a rather peaceful day, and the leader of the race finished in the peloton, 38 behind the breakaway.
After the finish, Albasini, who is described as a passista-climber by his team, told reporters, "I've tried to get into breakaways over and over again at this race and today it finally happened. I'm very happy that I won today's stage here."
Albasini explained how the seven man sprint unfolded: "I was afraid of Haselbacher of course, but when Den Bakker attacked during the finale I just knew I had to go for it. That was a long sprint!" In second place, finishing fast, was Albasini's compatriot and former teammate Gregory Rast (Phonak), while Rene Haselbacher (Gerolsteiner) took third.
How it unfolded
Just like yesterday, the start was furious with lots of riders willing to spend the day ahead of the peloton, and like yesterday, Jens Voigt (CSC) and Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) were some of the riders who tried to get away.
The first part of the stage was flat - for Switzerland - and T-mobile effectively controlled the nervous peloton until kilometre 50 when a seven man group was let away. The seven riders were Maarten Den Bakker (Rabobank), Grégory Rast (Phonak Hearing Systems), Allan Johansen (Team CSC), Gustav Larsson (Fassa Bortolo), Yannick Talabardon (Crédit Agricole), Michael Albasini (Liquigas - Bianchi), René Haselbacher (Gerolsteiner), with the best placed rider being Talabardon, 7'09 behind Ullrich.
Happy to sit up with a non-dangerous break up the road, T-mobile quickly gave the seven riders over four minutes, but unlike yesterday, Davitamon-Lotto stepped in and decided that four minutes was enough. With 47 kilometres to go, the break passed the third category climb at Udligenswil, and Gregory Rast jumped up in the lead of the mountains classification by passing the line first. At this point, Davitamon had reduced the gap to the break to 3'41, but seemed unable to keep it there. Aid came from Francaise des Jeux, Lampre and Phonak, and it seemed that the riders ahead were doomed to be caught.
Just like Rast benefited from being in the break, so did Albasini, who easily took the three points given away in Arth, thus increasing his lead in the sprint classification. Coming up the second and last climb of the day, Talabardon, Rast and Albasini looked frisky, while Johansen, Larsson and Haselbacher had to dig deeper to follow. Rast rode ahead to take the points offered, and brought back Talabardon who had picked the wrong place to put pressure on his mates.
With 26 km to go, Davitamon took over the work at the front from Lampre who had been alone up there for a while. The gap was still 3'20 and it was time for the peloton to get organized if it wanted to see the break again. The kilometres flew away on the descent of the Sattel climb, and with 19 kilometres to go at the bottom, it started to look as if the peloton had misjudged the whole race.
With 17 to go, the heavy artillery was called in, as Hulsmans and Knaven (QuickStep) hit the front, and once again, the gap started to drop. In the break, the seven riders were still working fine together, even if sprinter Rene Haselbacher was more often seen at the back than at the front. Coming into the last 10 kilometres, the peloton was riding as hard as it could, but was certainly running out of kilometres. With five kilometres to the line, the gap to the peloton was still 1'13, and at the front, Swede Gustav Larsson surprised his breakaway companions with the first attack.
He was caught shortly after, but his move might have put an end to the co-operation among the riders, and the peloton was coming closer by the second. Yannick Talabardon countered at the front, but was brought back by Albasini, and when Den Bakker attacked, Haselbacher brought him back. Talabardon tried again with two kilometres left to go, but was brought back by Haselbacher and Rast, who both looked very strong.
Under the red flag, Larsson was on the attack again, but it proved too early. Den Bakker went at about 500 metres to go before Albasini started a long sprint close to the left hand side barriers, and was the strongest rider, although challenged by his friend Gregory Rast towards the end of the sprint. The victory is the first as a professional rider for Albasini, who is best known for having won the European Championships in 2002.
Albasini increased his lead in the sprints competition, and Gregory Rast took back the climber's jersey he wore earlier in the race. Race leader Jan Ullrich will start tomorrow's mountainous sixth stage two seconds ahead of Bradley McGee (FDJ) and eighteen seconds ahead of Michael Rogers (Quick.Step).