Kirchen retains yellow jersey in advance of mountain time trial
Much as he did in winning Milan-Sanremo earlier this year, Fabian Cancellara thundered out of a breakaway group and soloed the final kilometres to claim the seventh stage of the Tour de Suisse. The double world time trial champion made full use of his horsepower to hold off a hard-chasing bunch, reaching the finish in Lyss with enough time to sit up, celebrate, savour the Swiss support and still finish two seconds ahead of Erik Zabel (Team Milram), Robbie McEwen (Silence Lotto) plus the rest of the peloton.
Race leader Kim Kirchen and his High Road team controlled the race well, with the former keeping an eye on things personally when a dangerous move got clear inside the final ten kilometres.
Leif Hoste (Silence-Lotto) was first of these to go, surging on the category four climb of Lobsigen, and was joined by Cancellara and Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner). Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) bridged with Kirchen also jumping across, realising that an attack is sometimes the best form of defence. Fothen had started the day just over a minute back and so keeping the German under control was one of Kirchen's main motivations.
Cancellara made his solo effort with approximately five kilometres to go, and was completely committed from there to the line. He received a huge roar from the crowd, and said afterwards that he was delighted to win close to his hometown of Bern.
The move wasn't particularly pre-planned today but it's good to get a stage near my home," he said afterwards. "It was necessary that I used a bit of intelligence to decide what to do. I got into the break and then heard on the radio that Kirchen had rejoined us. That would mean the bunch would chase and so that was my reason to attack a second time.
"Something like today can't be pre-planned. That is something that is decided with good sensations. I looked back and could see the bunch getting closer, so I knew that then was the time to try something. I live here, my family were present here and it was a good day for Swiss sport. To arrive alone here in Lyss was very special."
He got some valuable encouragement from the CSC team car, and said that he knew he had to dig very deep if he was to get the win.
"Kim Anderson was shouting to me that I had to keep going strong, to go for it, go for it, but in my head I was thinking, 'where is this finish line?' I knew that the sprinters behind me would accelerate to 70 kilometres per hour whereas me, on my bike computer, I wasn't even doing 60. So I was a bit scared and was wondering where the hell the finish was."
Team-mate Frank Schleck embraced Cancellara at the finish, appearing to be as happy as the Swiss fans were. "It was a very good day for the team, we deserved it. We knew after my crash that it was going to be difficult for me."
He also said that he move wasn't pre-meditated. "It wasn't a plan as such for Fabian to go at the end, but he was super-motivated as he lives close to here. What he showed today is that he is the strongest time trialist, the strongest rouleur... he is amazing."
Schleck had ambitions of winning the race but has decided now to concentrate on recovering after his bad fall earlier in the week. "I was a bit scared and I hung back towards the finish. I don't need another crash," he said. "I will take it easy tomorrow, I don't want to hurt myself more than I need to. I am feeling better every day [as regards his injuries] but I am not at 100 percent. I need to find out how my finger is, I am not sure. But even if it is broken, I can't do anything more about it [than strapping it up]. My shoulder is also sore. But it is not going to be a problem for the Tour."
Kirchen is another who is very much targeting the Tour de France; however, unlike Schleck, he has a very strong chance of winning the Swiss race. He will start tomorrow's time trial with an advantage of 27 seconds over Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) and 33" on former race leader Igor Anton (Euskaltel Euskadi). Stijn Devolder (Quick Step), his own team-mate Thomas Lövkvist and Andreas Klöden (Astana) are 46", 56" and 58" back respectively.
He was happy with how things went, particularly as the team used a bit of strategy to spare its energy for late. "The start was very, very fast and it is not easy to control things on this type of parcours. Many teams wanted to go in the break, there were many riders up there, and so the tactic of having [Thomas] Lövkvist up there meant that we had to do a bit less work.
"Towards the end, I attacked, myself. There was a little hill that I like a lot, and I thought, 'why not?' The gap was not too big and so I decided to try to bridge [to the Cancellara break]. It is less dangerous up front and getting back up to Fothen was good."
Kirchen said that the only previous time he led a stage race was in the Tour of Luxembourg. He said that the experience of leading a race such as the Tour de Suisse was a new one for him, but that he hoped to defend the lead in the stage eight mountain time trial.
"I am not sure how it will go," he admitted. "It is very long and like the other riders, I am a bit nervous. With the yellow jersey on my shoulders this is not the usual situation. 25 kilometres is quite long, it will be necessary to make a big effort. I think tomorrow the strongest riders will be to the front and I think the Tour de Suisse will be decided there."
How it unfolded
141 riders took to the start today, with only Quick Step's Giovanni Visconti deciding not to race.
Just four kilometers into the lightly rolling stage, the first group got away. Ivan Santaromita (Liquigas), Gabriel Rasch (Credit Agricole), Anthony Roux (Francaise des Jeux), Markus Zberg (Gerolsteiner), Hector Gonzalez (Saunier Duval), Marcus Burghardt (High Road), Jeff Louder (BMC) and Daniel Musiol (Volksbank) went clear, but were only able to stay away for about four kilometres.
21 kilometres into the stage, an 18-man group got away, but it contained High Road's Thomas Lövkvist, who is fifth overall, and the other teams weren't willing to let him get away. This group, too, was soon back with the peloton.
The next group had an even higher-ranked rider, Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas, who was in second place. His companions Johan von Summeren (Silence-Lotto), Sebastien Rosseler (QuickStep) and Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner) knew they wouldn't get far with him in the group, and the Czech soon let himself fall back into the main field.
Without Kreuziger out of the lead the rest of the group built up an advantage of nearly five minutes at 66 km to go, when a category four climb brought the lead down a bit.
Scholz had a flat with 47 km to go, and his two companions waited for him, giving up a bit of time. Only three kilometres later Scholz had to change bikes, and they didn't wait for him this time, but he caught them again easily.
High Road, Astana and Rabobank lead the chase, and after the second time over the climb, the lead had dropped to under two minutes.
The stage ended with two laps of a 27 km circuit, and as the peloton crossed the finish line for the next-to-last time, it had cut the lead to one minute, and with 17 km to go, the break was over.
When the climb loomed for the third and final time, Leif Hoste (Silence-Lotto), Maxim Iglinsky (Astana) and David Loosli (Lampre) broke out. Hoste stayed ahead, winning the mountain points, and was soon joined by Fabian Cancellara (CSC) and Wednesday's winner Markus Fothen of Gerolsteiner.
Race leader Kim Kirchen (High Road) and Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux) joined the leaders, but with 5 km to go, Cancellara turned on his world champion's speed and took off. The other four fell back into the peloton, where the sprinters were jockeying for position.
Try as they could, though, they were unable to catch the two-time world time trial champion, who repeated his breakaway win in this year's Milano-Sanremo. Two seconds later the peloton thundered over the finish line, with Erik Zabel (Milram) taking second on the day and double stage winner Robbie McEwen third.