Gil unable to increase his buffer over Jaksche and Ullrich
For one Spaniard joy, the other disappointment. The beleaguered Würth team got another boost to morale today when 23 year old Alberto Contador won the penultimate stage of the Tour de Suisse into Ambri. The 23 year old jumped across to a splintering breakaway group 115 kilometres from the line and then pressed on alone on the 2106 metre first category climb of Gotthardpass. Although Cadel Evans (Davitamon Lotto) set off in pursuit with 13 kilometres remaining and was then reinforced in his chase some ten kilometres later by David Herrero Llorente (Euskaltel), Contador was strong enough to stay clear of the two and reach the finish 34 seconds clear.
"I came here very motivated," said the Spaniard, when the Tour de Romandie stage winner was asked about the fact that he has again been successful in Switzerland. "The roads are in very good condition, the weather is usually very nice here and also I am here in very good shape."
Contador was listed beforehand as one of the possible winners but lost ten minutes on stage six. He explained how that happened and why it wasn't of huge concern. "More than anything, being here is about preparing for the Tour de France," he stated. "That is the first objective. I had a very difficult stage where I didn't feel well, maybe from something I ate, and I lost ten minutes as a result. That cost me my general classification chances. But that's the way it worked out, I can't change it."
Thirty seven seconds after he raced home for the win, Phonak rider Alexandre Moos led home a large chase group for fourth place. Race leader Koldo Gil Perez was next across the line, taking fifth, but the Saunier Duval rider was clearly disappointed not to have succeeded in his aim of taking time out of closest rivals Jörg Jaksche (Team Würth) and Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile). "It will be difficult now," a sombre Gil admitted at the post-race press conference. "The time gap is obviously not very much, and I am aware that the two others are specialists for time trials. But I think the podium is something I can try to achieve."
"I haven't seen the course yet but I am going to see it tomorrow morning, together with my team.
Although he seemed initially to be conceding defeat, talking about a podium place as being achievable, Gil later seemed to hold out some faint hopes for yellow. "I obviously wanted to get more time on him [Ullrich] today in order to have a more relaxed time trial. But the wind wasn't helpful – the idea was for two or three of my team-mates to get clear on the second climb and then I would try to get across to them. The headwind messed that plan up, so I did all I could do near the end to get a few seconds."
"I know it is going to be extremely difficult tomorrow, but I will give it everything I have. I will not know if I am the winner or the loser until I cross the finish line, but I will do everything I can to fight."
However Jaksche and Ullrich will both fancy their chances. Each of them are strong time trialists, and over 30 kilometres they will be relatively confident of erasing their deficits of 30 and 50 seconds respectively. Unless Gil pulls out a phenomenal ride, it looks like there will be a big German showdown on the undulating road between Kerzers and Bern tomorrow.
How it unfolded
With just the 30 kilometre time trial remaining after today, climbers knew this was their last shot before men like Jan Ullrich asserted their authority tomorrow. And with three super-tough climbs on the menu, it gave them no excuse to say their didn't have their chance.
126 of the original 167 left Ambri for a mountainous 164,1 loop in the Swiss Alps. On the lower slopes the Lukmanierpass (km 135), the first climb of the day, a group of three got away, which grew to two dozen five kilometres later.
However, this was considered far too large and far too dangerous by the groupe maillot jaune, and in the end, it was trimmed down to nine before the peloton let them go. In the break were: Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas), Gregory Rast (Phonak), Alberto Contador (Würth), Sven Montgomery (Gerolsteiner), Iker Flores Galarza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Maxime Monfort (Cofidis), Francesco Bellotti (Credit Agricole), Marco Fertonani (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) and Sylvain Calzati (AG2R Prevoyance). Best-placed was Calzati, 20th on GC at the start of the day and 6'32 behind the maillot jaune of Koldo Gil (Saunier Duval - Prodir).
100 kilometres from the finish, the nine had built a three-minute buffer - not nearly enough on a parcours like this. Down into the valley, the natural momentum of 117 riders saw them chomp another minute off their lead.
On the penultimate climb of the Oberalppass, Rast (Phonak) and Bellotti (Credit Agricole) were dropped, with the remaining seven going over the crest as one, lead by Montgomery (Gerolsteiner). 35 kilometres from home, Fertonani (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) was the first to try his luck on the Gotthardpass, before Contador (Würth) and Calzati (AG2R Prevoyance) countered and passed him a kilometre later. After that same distance again, the Contador was on his own.
Behind him, the groupe maillot jaune had thinned considerably. Race leader Gil (Saunier Duval - Prodir) tried to attack two kilometres from the summit of the Gotthardpass but to no avail, and ten riders went over its crest a minute-and-a-half behind Contador. On the descent, another 17 hooked on to the groupe maillot jaune, blowing it back out to 27.
Just shy of 10 kilometres to go, Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) broke free to go after Contador, who was still a minute ahead of the bunch. Five kilometres from Ambri, Evans was 37 seconds behind the lone leader, with the bunch a further 11 seconds behind.
The Australian was hoping Contador would crack on the fourth category climb at Quinto, its crest just three kilometres from the finish, but the Spaniard smartly spun a small gear, conserving his legs and preserving his lead all the way to the line.
Just before the catégorie 4 GPM, Euskaltel-Euskadi's David Herrero attacked the groupe maillot jaune and joined Evans, with the pair eventually finishing 40 seconds after the stage winner, the peloton another three seconds behind. Consequently, all time gaps at the top of the leaderboard remain unchanged.