Little change in the general classification
Milram's Erik Zabel is enjoying a late career revival, due perhaps to the weight that has been taken off his shoulders. Since his May 24th confession for having used EPO back in 1996, Erik Zabel has returned to his top sprinting form. He won stages two and three in the Bayern Rundfahrt and today galloped home ahead of Daniel Bennati (Lampre-Fondital), Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O'Grady (both CSC) to win the second stage of the Tour de Suisse.
Neither Zabel nor Bennati knew who won but once the photo finish was studied, it was determined that the Milram rider had triumphed by a very small margin. Bennati had two reasons to be disappointed; for one, he finished as runner up for the second day in a row, and also that position plus Cancellara's strong sprint ensured that he was unable to take over the yellow jersey of race leader.
"I'm very happy to win," Zabel told the media at the post-stage press conference. "Today was a difficult day for the sprinters because of the third category mountain near the end [the Rengg]. I was nearly dropped there but with the last of my strength, I was able to reach the top with the main bunch. The descent was twisting and very fast so that was tough too.
"Ballan and Ongarato were setting the pace coming up to the finish. I could hear a crash behind but it didn't affect us. There was a slight rise to the line and also a slight crosswind, and both of these helped me. The photo finish was very tight but I made it."
Cancellara said prior to the stage that his goal was to keep the jersey longer than the 24 hours he held it when he first won the Tour de Suisse prologue back in 2003. He succeeded in that goal, beating Bennati to take second in the day's first bonus sprint and then finishing just behind his Italian rival in the final gallop to the line. He ended the day 7 seconds ahead, conceding just one from his overnight margin to the Lampre sprint specialist. Not a bad showing for a guy who is known more as a time trial rider.
"In the Semaine Catalane I once beat Erik Zabel in the sprint and then another time in Paris-Nice I was ahead of Jaan Kirsipuu," Cancellara said, explaining that he has had some success in this area. "But I think if I trained to improve my sprint, I would lose something else."
He said that his defence of the jersey was achieved through several efforts. "First of all, I fought for the bonus in the first sprint. After that, we had this climb of the Rengg, which was fairly difficult. I wanted to cross the summit toward the front and fortunately I succeeded in that. It gave me additional motivation for the final kilometres.
"When we got to the sprint I was convinced that I would be pretty fast, but maybe not fast enough to win. Stuart O'Grady was there and he did great work as a team-mate to help me. I am pretty happy with my third place and think that this yellow jersey gave me additional strength on the mountain and in the sprint."
Indeed, had things worked out better, he feels he could even have taken the victory. "Just before the finish I went into a roundabout too fast and had to jump over an island on the road. I lost a bit of ground to those ahead of me and had to make a big effort to catch them. Perhaps if the finish was 100 metres further, the result could have been different.
"Initially we didn't know who won," he continued. "I am happy that Zabel took the victory, but would also have been satisfied if Bennati had won because he is a guy for the future. I'm pleased for Zabel, though, because of what he has been through recently."
The day's big aggressor was the Zurich rider Pascal Hungerbühler, who went clear approximately 82 kilometres from the finish. Making the most of what had been a relatively relaxed pace in the peloton, the Volksbank pro quickly established a lead of over four minutes, but was eventually reeled in after approximately 50 clicks out front. Further attacks then followed, including a move containing team-mate Stadler Florian, Matteo Carrara (Unibet) and Quick Step – Innergetic's Carlos Barredo, which was brought back inside six kilometres to go. As some consolation, Carrara did end the day in the mountains jersey.
Hungerbühler also had something to show, having got some valuable publicity for his Volksbank team. But he said he was sad to be caught. "I had hoped to stay in front for as long as possible, maybe for the mountains jersey. This morning I woke up with the sensation that I had a cold. I was freezing when I went out. I hoped I could sweat it out but that didn't work. Hopefully I feel better tomorrow morning."
Today's stage was marked by a big crash inside the final kilometre, with riders such as Grégory Rast (Astana) hitting the deck. The spill caused big splits in the main bunch but as per UCI rules, these time differences were negated when it came to working out the general classification.
Cancellara was one of those who stayed out of trouble, his strong riding in the run up to the sprint ensuring that he was ahead of the problem. He said that he will try to ride well again tomorrow, even if the parcours doesn't suit him.
"The main aim was to defend the yellow jersey, and to have it tomorrow at the start is a nice result. I know that I am not a climber but I will do everything possible to hold onto this on the mountain tomorrow. I will climb at my own rhythm. I noticed on the Rengg that Damiano Cunego was positioned in the front and so perhaps tomorrow he will try something."
How it unfolded
166 riders lined out for the second stage of the Tour de Suisse, with Fabian Cancellara leading them off in yellow. It was sunny and approximately 26 degrees. The riders were clearly enjoying the weather as it was a relatively peaceful start; CSC were patrolling the front of the bunch and very few attacks were launched.
The first significant move of the day took place when Zurich rider Pascal Hungerbühler went clear approximately 82 kilometres from the finish. He established a gap of two minutes in just five kilometres, and this advantage continued to grow. On the unclassified hill of Swarzenback, site of the day's feed zone, the Volksbank pro had almost four minutes on the CSC-led bunch but with 58 kilometres to go, he reached his maximum gap of 4'30.
Hungerbühler took the first bonus sprint near Wolhusen while behind, 2'25 later, Cancellara fortified his lead when he outsprinted closest rival Bennati. Soon afterwards the riders raced onto the third category climb of Rengg and these slopes saw a number of attacks being launched.
Swiss rider Steve Zampieri (Cofidis) was one of the most aggressive and got away with several others. Hungerbühler was caught near the summit and Matteo Carrara (Unibet) was first over the line, taking the points there ahead of Quick Step duo Carlos Barredo and Alessandro Proni, plus T-Mobile's Giuseppe Guerini.
Carrara persisted after the top and was joined with approximately 12 kilometres to go by Barredo and Stadler Florian (Volksbank). They were 14 seconds clear of the peloton at this stage, but the gap jumped to 45 seconds by the time Stalder took the final hot spot sprint at Malters.
With just over six kilometres to go, Carrara secured the KOM jersey for the day when he crested the fourth category Obernau ahead of Barredo and Florian. Very soon afterwards they were hauled back by the bunch, paving the way for a big sprint.
A crash inside the final kilometre brought down several riders, including the Swiss Grégory Rast (Astana), and opened up large gaps in the peloton. The front runners were ahead of the fallers, though, and Zabel was able to take the victory ahead of Bennati, Cancellara and O'Grady.
Thanks to his strong finish plus the bonus seconds seized earlier, Cancellara ended the day seven seconds ahead of Bennati. He thus succeeded in his aim of holding on at the top, and will begin tomorrow's 228.7 kilometre stage to the Austrian town of Nauders in yellow.
With the Hors Categorie Flüelapass coming 60 kilometres from the finish and then the third category hill of Norbertshöhe topping out with two k's to go, it's going to be hard for the big Swiss rider. He's vowed to fight on, though, and will be helped once more by his CSC team.