Motoring Cancellara lands second stage win
It's been something of a dream month for Vladimir Karpets. Exactly four weeks ago he won the Tour de Catalunya. Now, with a fortnight to go until the start of the biggest race of the year, he has come out on top in the Tour de Suisse.
The former Tour de France white jersey started the day third overall but was best of the yellow jersey contenders in today's tough 33.7 kilometre race against the clock.
World time trial champion Fabian Cancellara was clearly quickest, beating Andreas Klöden (Astana) by 20 seconds and Stefan Schumacher by 33. Karpets was 1'06 back in sixth, taking 1'10 out of Kim Kirchen (T-Mobile) and 2'16 out of his own team-mate, overnight leader Vladimir Efimkin.
"This is my most important win to date, as the Tour de Suisse is bigger than the Tour of Catalunya," he said after the finish, speaking in good Spanish. "The time trial was pretty hard, due to the route and also the competitors.
"I am very, very happy because I lost only a minute to the winner Fabian Cancellara. I am also pleased that I succeeded in getting the final yellow jersey."
Teammate Efimkin said he would be motivated by the maillot jaune, but in the end he folded under the pressure and dropped to sixth overall. He was 38th in the test, conceding 3'22 to the stage winner.
Luxembourg road race champion Kim Kirchen fared better. He started the stage second in the general classification and finished in the same position, overtaking Efimkin but being himself leapfrogged by Karpets. The T-Mobile rider was six seconds ahead this morning; he was 1'04 back by the end of the day.
"I knew that Karpets would be very strong and in the end, I couldn't beat him," he told Cyclingnews at the crowd-thronged finish. "I had a bad day today, maybe I am tired. I thought I would be closer. It was a tough week, a very, very hard Tour de Suisse.
"I was not happy about the time trial but I am happy about the overall Tour de Suisse."
Kirchen won the Ronde van Nederland (now called the Eneco Tour of the Benelux) in 2002 and the following season won Paris-Brussels and was fourth overall in the Swiss Tour. In 2005 he won the Tour of Poland. "This is not my best result," he stated. "I was second in Tirreno and also did well in other races in the years before this.
"But I think that second in the Tour de Suisse is very good and also good for the morale for the Tour. I think that I did well."
The 28 year old has had an extremely consistent 2007, taking that runner-up slot in Tirreno-Adriatico, 12th in the Tour of California, 3rd in Milano-Torino, 10th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 13th in Milano-Sanremo and 14th in the Amstel Gold race. Michael Rogers pulled out of this Tour de Suisse injured but Kirchen played down any suggestions that he could end up leading the team for the Tour. "Michael sent me a text message to update things. He said that his knee is not that bad now. This is good news and I hope everything is better soon for him."
According to Karpets, the biggest surprise of the race was Stijn Devolder. The 27 year-old Belgian showed his stage race pedigree last season when he finished 11th in the Vuelta; he's taken another step forward in ending up on the final podium here in the Tour de Suisse.
The Discovery rider finished fourth in the time trial, 1'04 back, and vaulted from seventh to third overall. He ended the race on the same time as Matteo Carrara (Unibet.com) but was the one to make the top three.
As for stage four winner Fränk Schleck, he said beforehand that he would go all out to try to take back the yellow jersey. However his legs didn't cooperate with that aspiration; he was 29th, 2'50 down, and dropped to seventh.
Charging along with his race number 13 turned upside-down to ward off bad luck, Fabian Cancellara ended the Tour de Suisse as he had started it; winning against the clock in the rainbow jersey of the reigning world champion.
Many expected him to deliver the goods today and he didn't disappoint. He was the 50th rider to start and smashed the previous best set by teammate Stuart O'Grady. The big Swiss rider was 2'20 faster than the Aussie and this proved enough to hold off the efforts of all the others. German duo Klöden and Schumacher were closest, going 20 and 33 seconds slower, respectively.
Cancellara was thus true to the promise made last Sunday to perform strongly in front of his home crowd in Bern.
After the race he travelled by helicopter to a TV studio in Zurich, thus missing the press conference. However he later expressed his satisfaction with the result.
"I'm extremely happy to have won here in my hometown. I'd hoped to win both time trials in this race, so it was perfect, really. The fact that I got three days in yellow was a nice bonus, too.
"I had some problems with my bike at the beginning, where the officials were saying that my bike was the wrong size. That took some of my focus away right at the very start of the stage, but I quickly regained my rhythm."
Apart from those two victories and three days in yellow, his performance saw him finish just three points behind Daniele Bennati in the points classification.
Earlier in the stage, teammate Jens Voigt had said that the race against the clock was a very stiff test. "It was a terrible course, way too difficult for the end of such a hard race." At that point he felt it was likely that the other CSC rider would take the victory. "Fabian is head and shoulders ahead of everybody else, in terms of being a favourite, and I think he will hold on to win today."
Like many others, Voigt rode the Tour de Suisse with twin aims; riding well was important [although he ultimately sacrificed any personal ambitions for Cancellara and Schleck], and so was preparing for July's big event.
"I think that is what I needed in order to get ready for the Tour de France," he said. "Some hard kilometres, some hard climbing, and overall a good workout. I will have a little bit of recovery time, then do the German championships before going to London."
Of course, the results of the other competitions were finalised today. Vladimir Gusev's long break on stage seven earned him the mountains classification and Florian Stalder (Team Volksbank) took the intermediate sprints jersey. Rigoberto Uran rode very strongly for a 20 year-old, winning stage eight and then today succeeding in his goal of moving into the top ten overall. He finished the race ninth, one place ahead of Klöden, and helped his Unibet.com squad finish second overall in the team standings behind Caisse d'Epargne. We'll be hearing more of him in the years ahead.
How it unfolded
The first rider to go off at 13:48 local time was last-placed American Guido Trenti (Liquigas), who was competing with the Belgian Leif Hoste (Predictor-Lotto) for the precious honour to finish last. Hoste did not want to have anything to do with that competition however and rode to a respectable 44'34.
Stuart O'Grady from CSC was the one who could push Hoste's time off the leader board by about 30 seconds. But his best time didn't stand for long as local hero Fabian Cancellara started soon after his Australian teammate and was in a hurry to get off the course again. He set a time of 41'46, relegating O'Grady to second by a good two minutes.
Shortly after the Swiss World Champion had finished his race, German Stefan Schumacher was reported to be only 26 seconds behind Cancellara at the second time check, but he eventually had to settle for second for the time being.
A big roar in the crowd was created by Astana's Andreas Klöden, who was ahead of Cancellara by the first time check, 8.3 kilometres into the race. But the German had started quickly and slowed down a fraction in the middle part of the course. At the second check, he was reported being ten seconds behind the current leader and eventually finished behind the Swiss, but ahead of compatriot Schumacher.
While the battle in the front seemed to involve only German speaking folks, it was shortly after 16:00 when the remaining hopefuls for the overall battle got ready. CSC's Fränk Schleck of Luxembourg was the first one to go, followed by Unibet's Carrara.
At the end there was only a trio left in the form of a Caisse d'Epargne sandwich: Kim Kirchen of T-Mobile started next to last between the two Russians from the Spanish squad.
In the mean time, Vladimir Gusev of the Discovery Channel team was doing a good ride and got the third best time at the second split. He would eventually finish fifth.
The five guys were approaching the first time check, which would already give an early indicator on what was happening. Karpets was on a roll and only one second behind Cancellara, whereas all the other contenders for the GC were a half minute behind.
While this battle was going on Damiano Cunego quietly rode a good race. Not known to be a specialist he ended up 16th, 2'20 behind. Chris Horner, who undoubtedly felt his attacks from the previous days, finished 45th, 3'39 in arrears.
The second time check confirmed that Karpets was on target to get yellow when the clock showed him in fifth place at 36 seconds. Kirchen is ranked 15th at the same spot whereas Efimkin is already two minutes behind.
The second time check was also the highest point of the course, so the last ten kilometres were very fast. In the end Schleck faded be outside the top 25, ending just behind Australian Matthew White and dropping two places in the overall.
Unibet's Carrara fought hard to get 22nd, but missed the podium by a hair, having the same overall time as Stijn Devolder. The latter rode a brilliant time trial to end up in fourth for the day.
Kim Kirchen managed to get 15th in the stage and hung on to second overall, easily beating Efimkin, who got relegated to sixth overall. However, Kirchen was not able to match Caisse d'Epargne's other Russian, Vladimir Karpets, who got sixth for the day and won the race overall by a good minute.