Iglinsky takes wet stage - Albasini steps into yellow

Maxim Iglinsky of Team Astana won the first stage of the Tour de Romandie, out-sprinting Michael Albasini of Liquigas and Markus Zberg of Gerolsteiner on a difficult uphill sprint. Albasini, who had finished third in the prologue, took over the leader's jersey with a one-second advantage over Iglinsky.

"Today I was really very cold at the beginning," Albasini said. He noted that in the finale, "I succeeded in being near the front to avoid a possible crash in the final tight turn. I would have preferred to win the stage, but you can't have everything...."

The 27-year-old Swiss rider was thrilled to take over the leader's jersey in his homeland race. He has done well in Switzerland in the past, winning a stage and the sprinter's jersey in the Tour de Suisse in 2005, and both the mountain and sprinter's jersey in that race in 2006. Albasini turned pro in 2003 for the Swiss team Phonak before joining Liquigas in 2005.

It was the first season win for Iglinsky, 27, and his sixth as a professional. The Kazahki national champion, who has won stages in the Dauphine Libere and the Deutschland Tour, pointed proudly to his national jersey after crossing the line, and said, "I am so happy with the confidence that the team gave me today. My personal ambitions for the next days are the team ambitions. In theory Andreas Klöden is our leader. We will know more after the time trial."

Astana Directeur Sportif Alain Gallopin said that the stage went as planned. "Already this morning we decided to do everything for Max", he noted. "On the last climb, I told our best rider today, Andreas Klöden, not to cooperate any more in the leading group, because Max was coming closer with a group that included three other Astana Cycling Team riders. When the two groups came together, I felt confident. I explained to Max that he had to take the last corner as the first rider, which he did perfectly. I am so glad for our riders and Kazakh sponsors." Astana now has four riders in the top 11 overall.

The stage, which led over three categorised climbs, was marked by a long escape group by Patxi Vila (Lampre), Morris Possoni (High Road) and Matti Breschel of CSC, but the category one climb Le Gruyere with 20 kilometres to go was their undoing. Astana led the charge to catch them, and as the 38-man strong group neared the finish line, last year's champion Thomas Dekker started the sprint. Iglinsky was able to take advantage of a momentary hesitation by the young Dutch rider and shot by him on the final tight corner to take the lead. He was followed by Albasini and Zberg with the same time, putting two Swiss riders on the podium. Dekker came in fourth, two seconds later.

Vila took the mountain climber's pink jersey, with the sprinter's green jersey going to Possoni. The white jersey for points leader went to Albasini.

Thursday's second stage runs 172 kilometres from Moutier to Fribourg, and features three ranked climbs of category one, three and two, with the final ascent just 34 kilometres before the finish line.

How it unfolded

The race got underway promptly at 12:50 under not-so-good weather conditions. It was raining at the start and the bad weather was expected to stay around, with snow even being reported on the last part of the course. Florant Brard of Cofidis, who finished last in yesterday's prologue, was too ill to start. The weather wasn't bad enough to keep away the vampires. Doping controllers did 102 blood checks on 13 of the 19 teams before the stage started.

Three riders got away at the 10 kilometre mark: Matti Breschel (CSC), Morris Possoni (High Road) and Patxi Vila Errandonea (Lampre). They were eventually followed by Daniel Wyss of BMC, who never quite caught up with them. After 80 km, the trio had a lead over the peloton of 7'40", with Wyss five minutes back. The bad weather must have inspired all the riders to hustle along, as they averaged 45 km/hour in the first hour.

With about 90 km to go, Wyss was absorbed back into the peloton. Breschel, Possoni and Vila kept their lead of over seven minutes as they started up the first climb of the day. Vila took the mountain points, followed by Possoni and Breschel. Much later, Steve Zampierei (Cofidis) went over as fourth, followed by Amets Zxurruka (Euskaltel)

Behind them, the entire Rabobank team moved up to the front in the continuing rain and picked up the tempo, bringing the trio's lead down to six minutes.

The second climb of the day saw the points go to Vila, Possoni, Breschel, Rick Flens (Rabobank) and Bram de Groot (Rabobank) in that order. Shortly thereafter came the first intermediate sprint in Le Noirmont, with Possoni this time taking the points ahead of Vila and Breschel. The peloton was then about five and a half minutes back.

With 50 km to go, the rain was still coming down, making the long descent to Glovelier tricky on the winding roads. The advantage of the leaders dropped to 4'20" with Rabobank still leading the chase with help from Caisse d'Epargne.

The rain finally began to let up and the feared snow stayed away, but in the enduring cold the leaders continued to lose ground on the chasing bunch. By the 40 km to go mark the lead was down to 3'40" and dropped further as they neared the final climb of the day, the category one Le Gruyere. On the long climb, Possoni and Vila dropped Breschel in a desperate attempt to fend off a charging chase group.

With 22 km to go, Denis Menchov pulled a 10-man group clear of the peloton, which included Dekker and Astana's Vladimir Gusov. The powerful Russian pulled the train up the mountain, pulling steadily away from the rest of the bunch. Up ahead, Vila took the mountain points ahead of Possoni, but their lead had shrunk to under a minute.

Possoni held on to take the points at the second sprint at Lajoux just 4.5 kilometres later, and held onto a slim advantage as the third group on the road fought to close the gap to the ten men ahead. Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) broke out of the Dekker group to go after the two leaders with 15 km to go.

The move inspired Alexander Botcharov (Credit Agricole) to try his luck, and the Russian passed Astarloza, overtook Possoni and Vila and then took off on his own. The two former leaders were absorbed by the first chase group behind, while Astarloza fought to get on terms with Botcharov. Behind, the group of chasers had grown to about 25 riders, but there was little organisation and several attacks before Astana took over control and set about chasing.

With six kilometres to go, Astarloza joined Botcharov in the lead while Jussi Veikkanen (Francaise des Jeux) was trying to bridge across. As the Astana team continued setting pace, more riders joined the chasing bunch. With just four kilometres to go, Finn managed to catch up to the two leaders, but the larger group wasn't far behind.

The steam train in teal, yellow and white finally closed down the breakaway inside two kilometres to go, and Gusov and Maxim Iglinksy led the charge under the red kite with Dekker in tow. Dekker opened the sprint early with 350 metres to go, but he hesitated for a moment when he realized how far he had to go, and Iglinsky took advantage of that, shooting around him on a sharp curve. The Kazakh champion was able to hold on to his lead and finished ahead of Albasini and Markus Zberg of Gerolsteiner, with Dekker finishing fourth, two seconds later.

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