69th Tour de Suisse - PT
Switzerland, June 11-19, 2005
Stage 8 - June 18: Lenk - Verbier, 165 km
Lastras leads the Spanish push
Spanish rider Pablo Lastras (Illes Baleares) took an impressive victory when he outsmarted Carlos Barredo (Liberty Seguros) and Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) during the tough finale to Verbier. Lastras, who underwent an operation in March was thrilled to have regained his form so fast, purely from training.
"It's an important win for me, and for my team," said Lastras who eagerly displayed the team's name on his jersey as he crossed the line. "No-one expected this win from me today. This win is for me!"
Race leader Michael Rogers kept his cool during the stage, and was never attacked by the rider closest to him in the GC, although he did lose a minute to Aitor Gonzalez (Euskaltel), who powered away on the final climb to finish fourth.
"The wind made it hard today," said Rogers to Cyclingnews after the stage. "No one gave me a hand [on the climb], so I spent a lot of energy today. I was going as hard as I could. Aitor [Gonzalez] was just so strong - I couldn't go with him today... tomorrow's going to be a hard day."
How it unfolded
Unlike the previous days, the break that formed early was not a threat to the riders best placed on GC. The attacks started from the gun, and after twenty kilometres, a final group of thirteen riders had been agreed upon, and QuickStep settled back in the peloton. Mathew Hayman and Thorwald Veneberg (Rabobank), Niki Aebersold (Phonak), Fabian Wegmann and Rene Haselbacher (Gerolsteiner), Daniele Righi (Lampre), Walter Beneteau (Bouygues) Daniele Nardello (T-Mobile), Allan Johansen (CSC), Angel Gomez (Saunier Duval), Carlos Barredo (Liberty Seguros), Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), and Pablo Lastras (Illes Balears) were the thirteen riders, and with Lastras being the most dangerous rider for the GC, 10'10 behind Rogers, it made sense to see QuickStep ease up.
The leaders gained six minutes, and the peloton was content keeping them there, although the chance of a rider from the peloton winning the stage seemed slim. Race leader Michael Rogers said before the stage that his ideal scenario would be if a harmless break went away, leaving it to QuickStep to set it up for the battle of the top ten in Verbier, and so far in the race, things had been going Rogers' way.
Halfway during the stage, the peloton came across the flatter stretches of road, with a lot of side wind, and it became very obvious which teams were setting their top riders up for the final climb. Quickstep, T-mobile, Phonak, Saunier Duval, CSC and Fassa Bortolo were all sporting their own echelons in the wind. At the front, in the breakaway, not all riders were co-operating, and Johansen, Righi, Wegmann and Gomez were seen sitting at the back.
Coming into Martigny with 34 kilometres to go, the gap had grown to seven minutes, and with the wall up to Verbier ahead of them, QuickStep knew that the gap wouldn't get further than that. From kilometre 139 and onwards, the road started to rise, and the riders in the breakaway didn't agree any better as the road started to steepen. The first move came from Phonak rider Niki Aebersold who would have loved to win the stage. He didn't attack, but turned the speed up significantly as he hit the front. It wasn't an appreciated move, and Thorwald Veneberg responded with an attack and was followed by Lastras and Haselbacher. They were all brought back, but things were stirred up and the gap to the peloton was coming down fast.
Saunier Duval's Angel Gomez countered but couldn't stay away for long either. Aebersold then attacked as expected, and this time riders were dropped, and after Gomez had tried a second attack, only the strongest climbers remained in the break. Back in the peloton, Saunier Duval had moved up to the front, and riders were flying of the back there as well. In the front, Veneberg had caught Gomez, and they were caught and passed by the remaining riders in the break.
Behind them, the group with the GC riders had hit the last seven kilometres, where the real climb up to Verbier started. The pace set by Saunier Duval earlier had damaged the peloton and only two dozen riders remained. Jan Ullrich and Giuseppe Guerini (T-mobile), Bradley McGee (FDJeuX), Tadej Valjavec (Phonak), Frank Schleck (CSC), Cadel Evans (Davitamon), Leonardo Piepoli and Christophe Horner (Saunier Duval), Aitor Gonzalez, Roberto Laiseka and Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) were some of the riders in that group, while an important rider who had gone missing was Fabian Jeker (Phonak), fourth before today's stage, 1'11 behind Rogers.
In the front, Carlos Barredo threw an attack and was followed by Lastras, Aebersold and Veneberg, who all realized that this was the real deal. Aebersold had to let go, but the other three rode away from their breakaway companions. Back in the peloton, Aitor Gonzalez (Euskaltel) attacked and put Michael Rogers in a tricky situation. Gonzales was only 1'38 behind Rogers before the stage, and Ullrich eased up behind Rogers, following the Australian who had to be wary, not spending all his reserves.
From the trio up the road, Barredo attacked a second time right when Lastras showed signs of weakness. Wegmann had to let go as well, and Barredo looked every bit the winner as he rode off with four kilometres to go.
The remains of the peloton was now Rogers, Ullrich, Piepoli, Horner, Guerini, Gil, McGee, Atienza, and Schleck, and suddenly McGee had to let go. Gil attacked and no one intended to follow straight away. Everyone was lining up behind Rogers, who once again kept his cool. One kilometre from the finish, McGee managed to get back to the group with Rogers and Ullrich, but the Francaise des Jeux rider looked tired to say the least.
Barredo, who looked like the winner only a few kilometres ago, was suddenly passed by an exploding Lastras. Lastras, who was the first to be dropped from the trio, had sat behind Wegmann, taking advantage of the German who had slowly but consistently closed the gap to Barredo. When they caught up with the Liberty Seguros rider, Lastras took off.
Over the line, no one could catch Lastras, and Barredo could just fight of Wegmann and Gonzalez to take second. Beneteau and Righi survived to take fifth and sixth ahead of Gil, who earned a seventh place thanks to his attack. Rogers, McGee and Ullrich stayed together over the line, thereby leaving the ultimate battle for the jersey for tomorrow's stage to Ulrichen.