Success number two for Quick.Step
Two out of three. Following the success of Tom Boonen on day one of the race, the Quick.Step team took their second stage of the Tour of Switzerland and thirtieth victory of the season today when Nick Nuyens was best at the Tour de Suisse.
The 26 year-old has won races such as Het Volk, Paris-Bruxelles, Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kurrne and the Tour of Britain in the past and today seized both the stage win and the yellow jersey in the ProTour race, outsprinting breakaway companions Linus Gerdemann (T-Mobile), Jorg Jaksche (Astana Wurth) and Koldo Gil Perez (Saunier Duval) to the line in Arlesheim.
"I am really pleased with this win," he said. "It certainly wasn't a dull race today. During the last section, about 20 kilometres from the finish line, Bettini made a move taking with him a group of nine riders, then Gerdemann and Jaksche made a move getting away from the other seven. After a short while myself and Gil caught up with them. We were able to pull away from the others, gaining about 30 seconds, and this advantage enabled us to get to the finish line and battle out for the victory."
"I'm on good form at the moment. At the national championships I'll be giving my all for Boonen but if the occasion arises, I'll certainly go for a victory".
The 189.5 kilometre stage was marked by an early break by Marcel Strauss (Gerolsteiner) and Alan Perez Lezaun (Euskaltel), who went clear after 56 kilometres and built a three and a half minute lead. The first ascent of the Ziegelschüren put paid to Lezaun's effort, while the second, harder approach to the climb which came once the riders were on the finish circuit lap caused major splits. This injection of pace put an end to Strauss' escape.
Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Paolo Bettini (T-Mobile) were among those piling on the pressure, causing other big names such as Michael Rasmussen, Robbie McEwen and Bradley McGee to go south and finish over four minutes back.
Gerdemann was heading the other direction, though, and got clear near the top. He was joined by Jaksche, while Gil and Nuyens then got across before the prime line. The four worked well together to open up a good lead. An attack by Gil was neutralised by Nuyens close to the line, and the Belgian then had little trouble in beating Gerdemann and Jaksche in the sprint.
The main bunch was led in by Oscar Freire (Rabobank) eleven seconds later. Overnight leader Daniele Bennati was in this group, and so Nuyens consequently took over in yellow. The 26 year old now leads Gerdemann by five seconds, with Bennati, Jaksche and team-mate Tom Boonen next.
A happy Nuyens talked about the closing stages of the race in the press conference. "On the last climb I was in the second group but the slope was a little less difficult near the top," he stated. "I got back up to the group with Bettini in it. I reacted immediately to an attack by Gil and we got up to the other two [Gerdemann and Jaksche]. We got forty seconds and rode flat out from there to the line. Everyone did their share of the work. When we got close to the finish I thought I would be the quickest out of the group, and so it proved."
Nuyens also took yellow in the Tour of Britain last year, then went on to win the race. When asked how today's result compared to this and other big victories he achieved in the past, he said that they are all important and part of his development as a rider. "I always make steady progress, as I have each year. I'm gradually getting stronger and that is the most important thing."
"The Tour of Britain was also nice for me because I took the jersey on the first day and kept it until the end. This is a stage win but as it is the Tour de Suisse, it is really important. I have the yellow jersey too but I think it is just for one or two days, because the mountains here are too hard for me."
Nuyens has often found himself in the position of riding for Tom Boonen and is rumoured to be considering moving to another team so that he has a better chance to chase his own results. However when he was asked if his place was now guaranteed for the Tour, he said that he would trust the judgement of the Quick.Step management in that regard.
"We will see," he said. "The Tour de France team will be based around Tom Boonen, and this is right because he is the world champion. I am not a [pure] climber and not a sprinter, so we will see."
Directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters added that the decision would be made soon. "We will see after the end of the Tour de Suisse. The selection will then be made for the Tour."
Second-placed Linus Gerdemann was very impressive today. The 23 year-old won a stage here last year and went close to doing so again. While he was stronger than Nuyens on the climbs, he lost out in the final sprint. "It was a good stage," he stated just after the finish. "Nick Nuyens was very fast and it was difficult to beat him."
How it unfolded
Stage three of this year's Tour de Suisse saw the international peloton depart in Einsiedeln for a 187.5km, rather hilly ride to Arlesheim in the region of Basel. Headed northwest, the race took place under beautiful sunny sky with summery temperatures - no wonder the riders enjoyed the first kilometres after the start at 12.30 and strolled along on a slightly downhill parcours.
But the fun didn't last too long at the ProTour race and after 56 kilometres, the duo of Marcel Strauss (Gerolsteiner) and Alan Perez Lezaun (Euskaltel) was finally given the go by the peloton, even though the German was only 18 seconds behind race leader Daniele Bennati (Lampre). The advantage of the breakaway grew rapidly until it was kept at around three and a half minutes by Lampre-led bunch.
The Cat. 3 and 4 climbs at kms 107 and 171 were taken on in that very same situation, with the peloton only interested in keeping the break's gap within reach. With 50 kilometres to go, their lead was down to two and a half minutes. In the second climb, Perez Lezaun ran out of gas and had to let go of his companion, soon to be caught by the bunch behind - where Michele Albasini (Liquigas) made an effort to place third behind the leading duo at the KOM. The Italian will therefore wear the mountains jersey tomorrow.
So it was up to Marcel Strauss to take his advantage to the finish: 40 kilometres left to race, and one Cat 3 climb yet to master. Meanwhile, Albasini back in the bunch managed to take the intermediate sprint points, which will give him yet another jersey!
With 25 kilometres to go, Strauss' lead dropped under the two-minute mark. Taking on the last climb of the day, the "Ziegelschüren" again, the peloton fell apart under the rhythm imposed by Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step), as well as Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile), who looked like he wanted to test his form a little. On the climb, Strauss was caught, and the race was on once again.
A new lead group formed with eight men: David Canada, Koldo Gil (both Saunier Duval), Jan Ullrich, Linus Gerdemann (both T-Mobile), Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step), Fränk Schleck (CSC), Giampaolo Caruso, Jörg Jaksche (both Würth) and Cadel Evans (Davitamon). Out of this group then emerged Gerdemann and Jaksche with 18 km to go, soon joined by Gil and Nick Nuyens (Quick.Step).
These four made up the finale of the stage, all looking extremely focused. On the summit of the climb, their advantage was already more than half a minute - a clear sign that they were out for the win. The last part of the day was all downhill and flat, so they looked good.
Lampre, trying to defend Bennati's yellow jersey and make the race come together again for a sprint finish, was leading the chase. Still, the fab four knew what they were up to and didn't give in. With a few kilometres to go before the line, tactical games nevertheless started, with a raging bunch only 19 seconds behind...
Gil attacked first, but Nuyens caught him again. The Belgian must have felt good as he just continued head-on afterwards, driving the last kilometre in front. And his effort paid off, as none of his three rivals could match his strength.