Stage win for Contrini, yellow for Bennati
Yesterday's stage win was all about who was quickest in the bunch sprint. Today's was down to the strength of a long, lone breakaway. As he has done on several occasions in the past, Italian rider Daniele Contrini (LPR) gave his all in a long distance effort, breaking away after approximately 40 kilometres and this time staying clear until the very end.
The stage victory in the Tour of Switzerland is the highlight of what has been an eleven year pro career, the 31 year old turning professional with the Brescialat team back in 1996 and taking wins in events such as the Route Adélie and stages of the Tour de Picardie plus the Sachsen-Tour in that time.
Earlier this season he went close to a stage victory in Tirreno Adriatico, but was overhauled with about 200 metres to go. Things worked out just right today, though, and as a result he described the win as the best of his career and the day as the best of his life.
"I'm really happy," he beamed, smiling continuously throughout the post race press conference. "I only thought about winning the stage in the last kilometre because before then I was suffering badly with cramps. I was thinking back to the Tirreno Adriatico earlier this year when I was caught with just 150 metres to go. Fortunately my directeur sportif gave me loads of encouragement today and that helped me to give everything to win the stage."
"I was initially motivated by the thoughts of taking the yellow jersey but as the kilometres passed, I became tired and started to lose time. This was a victory of the heart. I want to dedicate it to my team because they showed confidence in me. We got a wildcard for this race, which is the most important after the three Grand Tours, and so it was important for us to take a stage here."
The Team L.P.R rider broke away after approximately 40 kilometres and with race leader Tom Boonen's Quick.Step squad unwilling to commit to a chase, his advantage stretched right out to almost 15 minutes. While the Gerolsteiner, T-Mobile, Milram and Lampre teams did some work towards the end, he had more than enough time to race home for victory. However, the winning margin of five minutes and two seconds over Daniele Bennati (Lampre) and the rest of the main field was more than offset by the five minutes and 33 seconds he conceded yesterday, meaning that yellow would be on the shoulders of someone else.
Alexandre Botcharov (Credit Agricole) did what he could to take over, setting off in pursuit with 22 kilometres remaining and opening up one and a half minutes on the main field. He had finished in the main bunch yesterday and so if he was able to get close enough to the leader, he'd take yellow. However the acceleration of the main field near the end saw him hauled back with one kilometre to go.
At that point, the smart money was on race leader Tom Boonen holding on. The Belgian's finishing speed is such that he would normally be right up there in the sprint, but instead he rolled across the line 61st. What's more, the time bonus he lost out on was compounded by a split in the peloton, which ensured that he finished a further six seconds behind Bennati, Erik Zabel (Milram) and 24 others. When all the bonuses were calculated, the world champion ended the day eight seconds behind the new leader Bennati.
Bennati was, as expected, very pleased. "My team didn't initially go out thinking about going for the yellow jersey but were instead targeting a stage win," he stated. "When that was out of the question we went for the jersey instead. To take the lead is very satisfying, particularly as the Tour de Suisse is such a big race."
The QuickStep team had initially tried to control things but then eased back after what was a very chaotic and aggressive start. Bennati was surprised at this, and the fact that Boonen wasn't right up there in the sprint at the end. "I am perplexed as to why Tom Boonen didn't go for it. Perhaps as he had already won a stage he was satisfied with that victory, and wasn't so pushed about keeping yellow. I'm very pleased to take it, though. My teammates did a lot of work for me today and I would like to thank them for that.
"Nobody really tried to bring the gap down. Then the first time over the finish line, Gerolsteiner started to ride. In the last few kilometres my team then started to work so that I could go for the yellow jersey. It all worked out so I am very happy."
When asked if he will try to win tomorrow while wearing the race leader's maillot jaune, Bennati said that he'd try. "Why not? Tomorrow is a bit more difficult but my form is good. We will try to defend the lead and also go for the stage."
Happiest man today was undoubtedly Contrini, though. He is a two time silver medallist in the Italian time trial championships and has also taken a bronze there. That skill against the clock came in very useful today, even if it hurt a lot. "Heading towards the end I had a lot of cramps – in my stomach, my legs and then in my arms.
"Early on, the peloton had started very quickly and Bettini was trying to control it. The wind was very strong and with the experience I have from being a pro for eleven years, I realised that I could use this to my advantage. When I attacked I think that those in the peloton thought that the wind itself would take care of me. But I dug in deep and was able to benefit from that to build a good lead. It really hurt, though."
How it unfolded
The second stage began in warm conditions in Bremgarten with 167 riders present. The early attacking kept the speed high without producing any clear breakaways. Allan Johansen (CSC) went after 15 km but lasted only a couple of kilometres, then a trio with Charly Wegelius (Liquigas), Marcel Strauss (Gerolsteiner) and Daniele Righi (Lampre-Fondital) tried to extricate itself at km 25. They were joined by several riders, including Oscar Freire, and that was enough for the peloton to end the break.
The critical one hour mark saw the elastic finally break, when Daniele Contrini (LPR) attacked and nobody went with him. Riding for the only non-ProTour team (and a Swiss one at that) in the Tour de Suisse, Contrini made the most of the fact that he was 5'33 down on GC. After 65 km, he already had eight minutes as race leader Tom Boonen's Quick.Step team didn't seem particularly interested in a chase. That became apparent when the gap climbed to more than 11 minutes with 70 km to go, and then - when sprinters' teams normally put their feet to the floor - it kept going up.
At 56 km to go, Gerolsteiner was riding in pursuit, as Contrini was now 12'28 in the lead. But a fall took some of the sting out of the chase when Gerolsteiner's Rene Haselbacher crashed with Andoni Aranaga Azkune (Euskaltel). Neither were badly hurt, and both made it back to the peloton.
Contrini flew the sprint mark at Rapperswil with an advantage that increased to 15 minutes at the foot of the day's main climb, the cat. 3 Schindellegi. Lampre and Phonak had started to chase too, but with 35 km to go, it was almost certain that Contrini would stay away. He took the points at the top of the climb with most of his advantage intact, as Michael Albasini took second ahead of Zampieri and Redondo. The latter kept his mountains jersey, but is on equal points with Albasini.
An interesting counter attack was started by Russian climber Alexandre Botcharov at 22 km to go, while Contrini still had 10 minutes. Unlike Contrini, Botcharov had finished in the front group yesterday, and he had a real chance of taking the jersey if he could peg the leader back to five minutes at the finish.
Contrini went through the 1 lap to go finish line in Einsiedeln with a huge crowd cheering him onto victory, then Botcharov came through at nine minutes, and the peloton another minute back. The Italian clearly had the win in the bag, but the Russian was looking like challenging him for the GC, until Gerolsteiner and Lampre put some serious firepower in their chase. Botcharov gained one and a half minutes on the peloton, but in the final 10 kilometres, he started to lose steam as the bunch picked up speed and closed the gap with 1 km to go.
The day's honours nevertheless belonged to Daniele Contrini, who started to cramp as he crossed the line with a very healthy 5'02 gap over the peloton. In the end, that wasn't enough to take the jersey, as Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) powered home for second and enough bonus seconds to claim yellow. Tom Boonen definitely wasn't interested in the lead, as he rolled across in 61st place, not wanting to contest a sprint for second. But the Belgian will get a couple more chances to stretch his legs in the coming stages, and with an eight second deficit to Bennati, he might even take that leader's jersey back.