Rabobank's Robert Gesink has described his stage win on day six of the Tour de Suisse as a hugely significant day in his career.
Having promised much last season he was hampered by crashes and injury during 2010, but the Dutchman is enjoying a purple patch that has seen him take the queen stage at this year's Tour de Suisse. "For me, this is the biggest victory that I ever had," he enthused at the post-stage press conference in La Punt on Thursday.
"This is a big victory [in itself], and also because of the way I won. It was very special to ride away on the climb and stay away, coming into La Punt solo. Also of course the level of the other opponents here is really high, which also makes it very satisfying. This is a ProTour race, so that is a big difference."
The 24-year-old was unmatched on the final climb of the stage, the hors categorie Albulapass. He was able to reel in an early attack by Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), then struck out alone and had built a lead of 1:10 by the top of the climb.
A big chase group behind containing riders such as Lance Armstrong (RadioShack), Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) worked hard together to reduce his advantage, but he still had 42 seconds of that lead when he smoothened his jersey, threw his arms in the air and began celebrating.
"Yesterday I was talking to Nico Verhoeven, one of the two directors of the team, and said that I had planned to do an early attack on the Albulapass. He said that I should wait a little," he explained.
"Then Andy Schleck attacked real early. I tried to follow him, he went really fast. We went away in a breakaway of five or six guys, and then all the general classification guys came back to us. Schleck went again, I bridged the gap to him, then we came to Garate, my team-mate who was in the lead.
"That is a kind of special story as we already agreed yesterday that he would be in the break. To be in the move is not very easy but he is such a special guy because when he says that he will be in the break, he will be there," continued Gesink.
"He was there for me, he pulled really good. It was for a short time, but it was enough to make Schleck lose my wheel. From then it was just a case of going full to the top, going full down and rolling into the city of La Punt."
Gesink was asked about the fact that he lost time to his rivals on the final descent. He said that he simply exercised caution, realising that a crash would cost him the chance of taking the win and also of having a strong Tour de France.
"It was quite flat after the summit and there was a lot of headwind, so that's hard when you are on your own," he said. "Also, the roads were dry but with some wet spots. I thought that it wouldn't be smart to take all the risks I could, because I wanted to stay on the bike and win the stage.
"That's what I agreed with Adri van Houwelingen, the team manager who was behind me, and that is what I did - 42 seconds is still enough to win."
It may have been enough to win the stage, but the bigger question is will it be enough for the overall classification? Once the calculations were done, he ended the day 29 seconds ahead of stage runner-up Rigoberto Uran (Caisse d'Epargne) and a further seven seconds up on Swiss rider Steve Morabito (BMC Racing).
Fränk Schleck was the first of the big-name chasers in fourth, 38 seconds down, while multiple Tour winner Lance Armstrong is lurking in seventh, 55 seconds back.
Gesink was asked after the stage who he feared most; when he was given a general classification standings sheet he picked two names that he would watch most closely. "Armstrong and Fuglsang," he proposed. He battled the latter en route to winning the Giro dell'Emilia late last year and knows what he's up against.
"Of course I will try to maintain the avantage I have now. I think Uran isn't the biggest problem, but we will see in the time trial. But when you are at this point, you will of course try to defend the yellow jersey. We will see where will we will go on the last day," said Gesink.
As a rider who is not known for his time trial ability, the ideal situation would be for him to increase his buffer and thus enjoy a healthier lead heading into the final day. This year's Tour de Suisse is one of the flattest in quite a while however, and the next two stages are lumpy rather than being as mountains as he might like.
It's hard to imagine him gaining much time, but that isn't going to prevent him from trying. "I think that will be really difficult but if there is a chance, I won't let it go away," he stated. "I have really focused on this stage, I wanted to win this stage. Tonight I will look in the race manual and see what the possibilities are in relation to the remaining stages."
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