Euskaltel's Aitor Gonzalez fulfilled the hopes upon him and the fears around him when he broke away over the final climb of Furkapass, and held on to the line, 48 seconds ahead of a helpless Michael Rogers (Quick.Step). The stage win was a nice bonus, but Aitor's real aim was the full title as winner of the 2005 edition of Tour the Suisse. His victory put him 22 seconds ahead of Rogers, and the final stage of the race this year proved just as exciting as last year's finale where Ullrich beat Fabian Jeker by less than one second to take the yellow.
After the line, the former winner of the Vuelta a España explained that today's victory was one of his most emotional ever. "I was so very tired in the last kilometres, but it feels so nice to win again after the low period I've had," Gonzalez explained. "I was confident before the stage, and I had shown everyone yesterday that I was strong enough to attack. Early in the stage, I wanted an Euskaltel rider to go in the break (Laiseka - ed.), so everything went according to plan."
Cyclingnews spoke to a bitter Michael Rogers after the finish, and asked whether he was satisfied with the fact that he did everything he could today. "Yeah, but really disappointed," said Rogers.
It seemed only Horner was helping you? "Yeah, well, Horner had his own objectives."
How it unfolded
When the riders rolled out of Ulrichen, they had around three hours of riding in front of them, and it wasn't to be easy, since practically half the stage was uphill. The stage's only HC climbs were to be raced, and leader Michael Rogers and everyone else expected a lot of attacks. It didn't take long until their predictions came true, and Gerolsteiner's Ronny Scholz attacked after four kilometres.
Lots of riders were eager to create something early on, and Scholz was brought back. The pace was high, and after a few kilometres of racing, a group of seven seemed formed a solid break. Kim Kirchen and Vincenzo Nibali (Fassa Bortolo), Daniel Schnider (Phonak), Francesco Bellotti (Crédit Agricole), Luis Perez (Cofidis), Sven Montgomery (Gerolsteiner), and mountains leader Roberto Laiseka (Euskaltel) were the seven, and they were being chased by Daniel Atienza (Cofidis), who showed his strengths yesterday. Atienza later replaced Schnider in the break, and Schnider was quickly passed by what remained of the peloton as they chased after the break.
Already at this point, Rogers teammates were getting dropped, and he had to rely on Christian Moreni and Patrick Sinkewitz. On the other hand, the other top riders didn't have a lot of teammates to rely on either. The front group gained a minute on Rogers group as they were heading up the Nufenenpass, and Nibali proved himself to be a slow starter as he trailed behind the break, unable to hold on early in the stage. Back in the peloton, Tadej Valjavec (Phonak) took off at an amazing speed, and when he was accompanied by Liberty Seguros Koldo Gil, they posed a threat to Rogers' lead. They caught up with Nibali who was able to make a change of speed and follow the strong climbers.
Coming closer to the summit, Laiseka took off to take the twenty points offered to the winning climber, and secured his caffe latte-coloured climber's jersey by doing that. Over the top, Nibali and Gil caught up with the leading riders, while Valjavec paid dearly for his kamikaze attack earlier, and was swallowed up by the 30-strong peloton that followed one minute after the break.
The peloton was threatened by the presence of Gil in the break, and it was working to bring the break back on the early slopes of the Gotthardpass. CSC's Jens Voigt rode hard at the front of the peloton, and when the group he had on his wheel started to slow, he simply rode away with Lampre's Gerrit Glomser and Gerolsteiner's Beat Zberg behind him. The three riders caught up with the eight in front, and Beat Zberg's presence did little to brighten Michael Rogers day up. One rider who did was Christian Moreni, who rode strongly to regain contact with the peloton after the first climb, and put in a real effort ahead of Rogers, coming up the Gotthardpass.
With 59 kilometres to go, Nibali had to let go once more, this time for good. Bellotti couldn't follow either, nor could Glomser. Shortly after, Kim Kirchen was dropped, and Laiseka who had been in last wheel during the entire break except for over the mountain prize, looked tired rather than cunning. Great parts of the climb were cobbled, and most riders stuck to the right of the road, trying to avoid the rougher parts.
After having been dropped previously, Saunier Duval's Fabian Jeker came back to the peloton and decided to attack them just the same. He caught the riders who had been dropped from the leading group. The remaining riders in the lead group were now Daniel Atienza and Luis Perez, Beat Zberg, Roberto Laiseka, Koldo Gil and Jens Voigt, with Sven Montgomery yo-yoing on and off the group.
Michael Rogers and Christian Moreni (QuickStep), Jan Ullrich and Giuseppe Guerini (T-mobile), Bradley McGee (FDJeux), Aitor Gonzalez (Euskaltel), Cadel Evans (Davitamon), Chris Horner and Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval), Frank Schleck and Wladimir Gussev (CSC) were all in the peloton, together with another dozen riders. They were 45 seconds behind the riders in the break.
Luis Perez split the lead group with a little less than four kilometres to the summit of the Gotthardpass, and Koldo Gil, eager as ever, was the first rider to chase him. Zberg, Voigt, and eventually the others followed, but they had to regroup behind Perez, as the Spaniard looked strong one hairpin bend above them. Zberg tried again within one kilometre from the summit, and this time he reached Perez. His move encouraged Gil to do the same, and over the top, the group was coming together again. Laiseka looked certain to take the mountains prize, but it seemed that Laiseka's wheel sucking had upset Gil, who countered the Euskaltel rider, but tired and had to see himself passed by Perez. Laiseka secured the mountains jersey nevertheless, but Gil continued to set the tone in the break, giving Zberg a good yelling as the Swiss rider waited for Montgomery who was just about to catch up again.
Gil might be hot-headed, but at this point of the race, the break had 1'42 and he was the virtual leader. Back in the peloton, Moreni and Rogers were riding so hard on the descent that they opened up a gap to the others. Ullrich closed it with a confident face, and a piece of food in his mouth, as if to show Rogers how easily he could do it. The gap to the breakaway was down to a minute at the bottom of the second climb, and Laiseka was back with the peloton, unable to hang on with the leaders while he was waiting for the attack from Gonzalez that was likely to come.
Koldo Gil now saw his chances everywhere, and jumped for the bonus sprint right at the foot of the last climb. He certainly needed the seconds, but his move meant he came into the climb straight after a sprint. Zberg saw is chance and attacked Gil and the rest, but the Liberty Seguros rider was able to come back with Atienza on his wheel. Meanwhile, in the peloton, Rogers surprised everyone with an attack. Guerini was the natural rider to bring him back, but the high tempo made a few riders lose contact with the group, including Bradley McGee.
Early in the long climb of Furkapass, Aitor Gonzalez attacked and was followed by Rogers and Schleck. Ullrich was in pain and couldn't follow, and seeing that, Gonzalez attacked again, leaving the yellow jersey and Schleck behind him as well. Rogers and Schleck who were now back with Ullrich, reached Voigt who had been dropped from the front riders. Voigt put in his last reserves to help Schleck, and tore the group apart again. Rogers and Schleck were now leaving Ullrich, Guerini, Moos and Valjavec behind.
Up front, Gonzalez caught Gil, Atienza and Zberg, and behind them Schleck rode away from Rogers together with Piepoli and Horner. Zberg was the first rider to be dropped from the leading four, and he joined forces with the three riders who followed closest, before succumbing to the inevitable and dropping back. Gil and Atienza hung on a little longer, but had to see themselves dropped by Gonzalez, and they too joined Horner's group. Gonzalez was now the most serious threat to Rogers' lead, and the Australian chased Horner's group, hoping to get some help.
Rogers eventually did catch the group ahead of him, but Gonzalez had 49 seconds and was the virtual leader. The bigger group still had a chance to catch him, but it would be hard. Over the top of the last climb, Gonzalez had increased the gap between him and the yellow jersey, and started the descent, 1'13 ahead of Rogers' group. Rogers was now only accompanied by Schleck, Horner, Piepoli and Atienza, and he seemed grateful for the help given to him by Horner and Schleck.
At one point on the descent, the gap was down to 51 seconds, but it grew again as Gonzalez cut short every corner and took every risk possible. At the bottom, he had over a minute again. In the last few kilometres, Rogers was once again starting to bring the gap back as the lone Basque was getting tired. Unfortunately for Rogers, it was all too late, and a super strong Gonzalez rode all the way to the line before punching the air, 48 seconds ahead of Rogers.
Rogers finished second in the GC, a result too painful to be happy about shortly after the finish. Jan Ullrich came back a bit and managed to defend a third place in the GC against an opportunistic Frank Schleck. Brad McGee who finished 4'17 down kept his points jersey all the way, just as Liquigas' Michael Albasini rode home with the sprints jersey. Laiseka kept his mountains jersey ahead of Horner and Gil, while Gerolsteiner can congratulate themselves on being the best team in Tour de Suisse 2005.