The rider described by Bjarne Riis as "the next Jan Ullrich", 22 year old Linus Gerdemann (CSC) won the seventh stage of Tour de Suisse with a late attack from the breakaway group. Race leader Michael Rogers (QuickStep) finished in the peloton, 23 seconds down on the winning Gerdemann, and his QuickStep team looked solid throughout the stage, with even team sprinter Tom Boonen stepping in defending the yellow jersey.
Gerdemann, who attacked when the gap between the breakaway and the peloton dropped below one minute, was rapt by his stage win and told the reporters after the stage, "I was riding right at the back of the group to really surprise them when I attacked. Then, I didn't look back anymore and just dug in there. In the end, the gap was sufficient! I'm so happy to win at such an important race as the Tour de Suisse."
For the remaining two hard stages, Gerdemann is looking to pay back even more of the trust that Riis has put in him. "Now, I want to help Frank Schleck who's well-placed on GC (5th, 1'27 down - Ed). We get on really well, too, and I hope that he can still improve his placing."
For race leader Michael Rogers, it was a standard though not overly difficult day at the office: "My team was very strong; we set a pace where no one was able to attack me, and in the last 50 kilometres, some of the other teams came [to help] who were interested in the sprint. So for us, it worked out well," he said.
However, for the riders vying for a place on the podium, the Australian says it will be a case of the strongest man wins over the forthcoming days - and he has all intentions of being that man.
"I think tomorrow, a lot of people are going to try and make the break again, so I think we're going to control the race till the last climb. And then, who's the strongest, wins...
"I think I'm in a good opportunity [to win] here, and there's no saving any energy here - I'll hang onto the jersey till I drop. I think it's always a mistake to be saving your energy for down the road, because down the road might never arrive. When opportunities come, I'm the kind of person who likes to take them, and that's the way I'll race the next two days."
How it unfolded
The peaceful images of the riders broadcasted to various TV-stations as they rode out from Einsiedeln were to change as soon as the road started to rise. Despite it not being a categorised climb, the riders faced an ascent up to Raten early in the stage, and the attacks were off as soon as it went uphill.
18 riders got away early, and they were Giuseppe Guerini (T-mobile), Gert Steegmans (Davitamon-Lotto), Karsten Kroon (Rabobank), Martin Elmiger (Phonak), Jens Voigt (CSC), Lorenzo Bernucci (Fassa Bortolo), Marco Pinotti (Saunier Duval), Dariusz Baranowski, David Etxebarria and Carlos Barredo (Liberty Seguros), Michael Albasini (Liquigas), Patrick Sinkewitz (Quickstep), Frank Scholz (Gerolsteiner), David Loosli and Manuele Righi (Lampre), Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues), Jose Luis Arrieta (Illes Baleares) and Joseba Albizu (Euskaltel). Not long after they got away, Barredo slipped back into the peloton while Alexander Moos (Phonak) managed to bridge across.
Patrick Sinkewitz had the best time in the breakaway, but since he was a teammate of Rogers, he didn't pose a threat, instead the QuickStep team had to look out for Voigt and Moos who were both around three minutes down. Quickstep didn't take it easy, and during the first hour, the speed was 48,2 kilometres per hour. This speed, in combination with the first climb split the peloton apart, and the riders behind were left to chase for a good thirty kilometres before they regained contact with the peloton containing Rogers.
After 37 kilometres of racing, the peloton caught the breakaway, but there were riders in it who wanted it differently. A new attack was launched, and a new front group formed. Fred Rodriguez (Davitamon), Linus Gerdemann (CSC) and Karsten Kroon (Rabobank) were new additions while Elmiger, Bernucci, Etxebarria and Albizu tried again. With Elmiger being the best rider, 5'40 down on Rogers, this was the break Quickstep had waited for, and they happily sat back after their early stage efforts and allowed the break four minutes.
None of the riders in the break paid much attention to the GPM in Schallenberg, and the same attitude was seen as the riders passed the intermediate sprint in Gwatt. Back in the peloton, other teams had realised that QuickStep wasn't interested in closing the gap to the break, but would just control them. The fact that Boonen sat at the front, working, also spoke for the fact that he was more interested in defending Rogers' jersey than joining a bunch gallop. Francaise des Jeux and Lampre joined forces at the front, and shortly after Liquigas riders Albasini and Carlström offered their services too.
The last mountain prize was passed with 11 kilometres to go, and Etxebarria took the points in an attempt to stir things up and to check the strength of his breakaway companions. The peloton was now 1'11 behind the break, but Etxebarria's move made the others unwilling to work together. Albizu couldn't hang onto the break, and the others started to look at each other. With seven to go, Gerdemann seized the opportunity to jump away behind a motorbike, and after a few seconds of hesitation, Elmiger tried to follow on the sidewalk. However, the Swiss rider could not match the pace of the young German, and despite the fact that the chasers were now working together, Gerdemann fought them off.
With two kilometres to go, Lorenzo Bernucci realized that his four companions were too slow, and tried to bridge across to Gerdemann alone. Gerdemann looked under his arm with one hundred metres to go, and saw that Bernucci would not reach him. Gerdemann who has recently signed for the Pro Tour team CSC gave up a loud cry when it occurred to him that he'd win the stage, and a strong Bernucci had to settle for second while Etxebarria led the remains of the break over the line to take third.
In the less enthusiastic bunch sprint, Liquigas' Daniele Colli outsprinted Rene Haselbacher (Gerolsteiner) for seventh place.