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Seventeen for Boonen, looking good for the Tour

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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step)

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) (Image credit: AFP)
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Stage win, yellow jersey

Stage win, yellow jersey (Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile)

Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) (Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Swiss supporters

Swiss supporters (Image credit: AFP)
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The start village in Baden

The start village in Baden (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Wurst is a major sponsor at the Tour de Suisse.

Wurst is a major sponsor at the Tour de Suisse. (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Andreas Kloden and the rest of the T-Mobile team

Andreas Kloden and the rest of the T-Mobile team (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Star rider Jan Ullrich gets another peculiar request

Star rider Jan Ullrich gets another peculiar request (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Ullrich was in good spirits prior to the start of the stage

Ullrich was in good spirits prior to the start of the stage (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Simon Gerrans (AG2R Prevoyance) tells Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) and Allan Davis (Astana Wurth) the old injury stories

Simon Gerrans (AG2R Prevoyance) tells Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) and Allan Davis (Astana Wurth) the old injury stories (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) chats to compatriots Simon Gerrans (AG2R Prevoyance) and Allan Davis (Astana Wurth) prior to the start of stage one of the 2006 Tour de Suisse on Saturday

Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) chats to compatriots Simon Gerrans (AG2R Prevoyance) and Allan Davis (Astana Wurth) prior to the start of stage one of the 2006 Tour de Suisse on Saturday (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) is here to build form before the Tour de France. He may try something this week.

Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) is here to build form before the Tour de France. He may try something this week. (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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The Phonak team is presented to the crowd in what is its home race

The Phonak team is presented to the crowd in what is its home race (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Erik Zabel (Team Milram) is in demand

Erik Zabel (Team Milram) is in demand (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas) is also building up for the Tour.

Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas) is also building up for the Tour. (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Freddy Rodriguez is acting as lead out man for Robbie McEwen (Davitamon Lotto)

Freddy Rodriguez is acting as lead out man for Robbie McEwen (Davitamon Lotto) (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Small, but perfectly formed

Small, but perfectly formed (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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The Euskaltel team await the start

The Euskaltel team await the start (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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One of the rider's bikes has noted the precise info about the day's climbs and bonus sprints

One of the rider's bikes has noted the precise info about the day's climbs and bonus sprints (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Frank Schleck was fourth last year

Frank Schleck was fourth last year (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Robbie McEwen was happy in the sun

Robbie McEwen was happy in the sun (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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So too Tom Boonen

So too Tom Boonen (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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The day would bring yet another victory for the world champion

The day would bring yet another victory for the world champion (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Despite their rivalry on the bike, Boonen and McEwen had a good chat before the start. Here both of them await the countdown for stage one

Despite their rivalry on the bike, Boonen and McEwen had a good chat before the start. Here both of them await the countdown for stage one (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) at the start of the first stage

Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) at the start of the first stage (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Jan Ullrich waits too

Jan Ullrich waits too (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Ullrich won this race in 2004 and will get a valuable pointer as to his form this week

Ullrich won this race in 2004 and will get a valuable pointer as to his form this week (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Hang on! A young spectator tries out a more difficult mount

Hang on! A young spectator tries out a more difficult mount (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Two of the people working on the race

Two of the people working on the race (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Having ridden most of the Giro, Ullrich is fine tuning his form

Having ridden most of the Giro, Ullrich is fine tuning his form (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Former world champion Oscar Freire was in a good mood prior to the start of the Tour of Switzerland

Former world champion Oscar Freire was in a good mood prior to the start of the Tour of Switzerland (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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The green jersey is also a real possibility for him, provided he stays healthy

The green jersey is also a real possibility for him, provided he stays healthy (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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McEwen salutes the crowd

McEwen salutes the crowd (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Ullrich was focused before the start

Ullrich was focused before the start (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) thunders home to take his seventeenth win of the season, ahead of Daniele Bennati (Lampre) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank)

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) thunders home to take his seventeenth win of the season, ahead of Daniele Bennati (Lampre) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank) (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Paolo Bettini shows the strain of the strong riding he did for Boonen

Paolo Bettini shows the strain of the strong riding he did for Boonen (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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To the victor, the spoils

To the victor, the spoils (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Stage win, yellow jersey and the attention of these two: no wonder Boonen is smiling

Stage win, yellow jersey and the attention of these two: no wonder Boonen is smiling (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Michael Albasini (Liquigas) was caught before the end but he had the sprints jersey as compensation

Michael Albasini (Liquigas) was caught before the end but he had the sprints jersey as compensation (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Jose Antonio Redondo (Astana Wurth) was away for most of the stage. The mountains jersey was his prize

Jose Antonio Redondo (Astana Wurth) was away for most of the stage. The mountains jersey was his prize (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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More podium time for Boonen

More podium time for Boonen (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Albasini talks to the press

Albasini talks to the press (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Boonen gives his conference

Boonen gives his conference (Image credit: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com)
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Swiss supporters watch the first stage go by

Swiss supporters watch the first stage go by (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) was prominent in the peloton

Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) was prominent in the peloton (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) looks happy as he rides in the bunch

Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) looks happy as he rides in the bunch (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Happy Jan

Happy Jan (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) wins the first stage in Baden

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) wins the first stage in Baden (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) zips up the yellow jersey

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) zips up the yellow jersey (Image credit: AFP Photo)

For some it is a curse, but for Tom Boonen it has been a talisman. The wearer of the Rainbow Jersey of world champion today sprinted to his seventeenth win of the season in Berne, taking an early lead in the Tour of Switzerland in the process. Boonen landed fourteen big victories in the whole of 2005, yet in less than six months racing, he has already surpassed that total. On the evidence of today, more wins this week and in next month's Tour de France are quite easy to envisage.

"Today I have had a super and strong team," he stated after the finish. "They were able to control the race in every moment. Everybody has done a fantastic job. They worked a lot on the last climb at 22 kilometres from the finish line, and the high rhythm they set there affected the legs of many riders. During the last 2 kilometres, Tankink, Nuyens, Bettini and then Tosatto worked hard and perfectly piloted me up to 250 meters to go. It's a team success."

Hitting the front quite a way out, Boonen was more than strong enough to hold off his two closest rivals, Lampre's Daniel Bennati and former rainbow jersey Oscar Freire (Rabobank). The latter two almost collided crossing the line but stayed upright to take second and third out of the 82 man lead group.

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon Lotto) and Erik Zabel (Team Milram) were expected to be up there but the tough fourth category climb of Hertenstein put paid to their chances. They got tailed off on the second lap of the finishing circuit and came home 1 minute and 53 seconds back.

"The last lap was pretty hard," said Boonen. "When I saw the climb the first time, I thought it mightn't be possible that it could all stay together until the end. But when we crossed the climb and saw the fifteen kilometres which lay between there and the finish, with fast roads, I thought then that if I could stay in the front, no break would get clear between there and the line on the last lap.

"The second time up, we went climbed it pretty fast. First Bram Tankink was pulling and then Paolo [Bettini] at the same pace. I had no problems staying in the front but behind, McEwen and Zabel were getting dropped. That wasn't too hard, but after the top it was a little more difficult to keep things together with only two or three teammates left. It all worked out, though, and it is great to win here."

The sunny first stage was marked by a long distance lone break by Astana Würth rider José Antonio Redondo Ramos. The Spaniard broke clear 24 kilometres after the start in Baden and opened up a maximum lead of 8 minutes and 45 second by kilometre 66. Michael Albasini (Liquigas) and Roger Beuchat (LPR) tried to get across before this point but were unable to do so. However the Quick.Step and Davitamon teams of Boonen and McEwen had better luck in reducing the gap, cutting the lead to 4 minutes and 30 seconds.

At this point a persistent Albasini and Steve Zampieri (Phonak) took their chance, setting off in pursuit on the fourth category Baldingen/Rüti climb, about 60 kilometres from the end. They chased well together and finally bridged up about 20 kilometres later. The three rode together for a while and then Redondo Ramos was tailed off on the second ascent of the steep Hertenstein climb.

Albasini and Zampieri hung out for a while longer but they were finally hauled back six kilometres from the line, setting things up for a big sprint and Boonen's victory.

First year pro Redondo Ramos was a little disappointed at the end, but indicated he may try again. "I was going well but it was a hard stage for a breakaway. It is only the first stage, so we will take it day by day and see how it goes."

Albasini has tasted success here before, winning a seven man sprint last year to land stage five to Altdorf. "It was a hard stage, especially with that climb at the end," he stated "I am happy with my form, we were working well but with so many behind and the sprinters teams happy to ride, it was very, very difficult to stay clear. We were caught about seven kilometres from the end, so it was a pity."

"If there is the chance to win a stage I will try again. I would like to win a stage, as I did last year – maybe I will do it, maybe I wont. I think I am doing the Tour de France, so riding well there is also a target."

How it unfolded

The first stage starting and ending in Baden's Bruggerstraße was run in perfect summer weather, with temperatures in the mid-20s and not a rain cloud in sight. 168 riders from 21 teams signed on, and the stage got under way shortly before 2pm. The field stayed together for the first 24 km, before Würth's José Antonio Redondo Ramos managed to attack and get a gap. The peloton was more than content to let the 21 year-old first year pro with no wins to his credit ride away, and leave the job up to the sprinters teams to pull him back when they saw fit.

Redondo took full advantage of the fact, and although he was pursued by Swiss duo Albasini (Liquigas) and Beuchat (LPR) for a while, the chasers were caught after 38 km and Redondo was on his own in front. His gap at that stage was a mere 1'10, but then the pace eased in the bunch and it grew to 8'45 after 66 km, before the chase started.

Initially it was Quick.Step and Davitamon chasing for their sprinters Boonen and McEwen, the two fastest men on paper in this field, but they got some help from Milram (for Zabel). Within 10 km, they had already carved two minutes off the Spaniard's lead, and the stage looked to be heading for a predictable conclusion.

But when the gap was down to around 4'30, Michael Albasini (again) and another Swiss rider, Steve Zampieri (Phonak) set off in pursuit on the fourth category Baldingen/Rüti climb with around 60 km to go. The pair quickly ate into the leader's advantage, while the peloton thought it was too early to react, and let them go.

Redondo headed back into Baden with two 23 km laps to go with the two Swiss chasers just 1'07 behind, and the peloton at 3'08. While Redondo had been taking all the bonus sprints, Albasini had been picking up second place ahead of Zampieri, in order to improve his chances on GC.

Team LPR had started to help out the always working Quick.Step and Davitamon teams, and the bunch looked to have the situation in hand, as Redondo was caught by Albasini and Zampieri with 40 km to go. The gap was around 2'30, and never got bigger, despite the best efforts of the two Swiss in front.

At one lap to go, the leading trio got a massive cheer from the crowd at the finish line, and still held 2'00 over the bunch, where Bettini led under the finish banner with Boonen on his wheel. The leaders hit the short but steep (8.6%) Hertenstein climb, and Redondo dropped off. David De la Fuente (Saunier Duval) tried to stir things up in the peloton by attacking, and it succeeded in creating a split in the bunch, causing McEwen and Zabel to be dropped.

That was the signal for Rabobank and Quick.Step to drop the hammer, and their gun riders started to work for a Boonen or Freire stage win. Redondo was swallowed at 18 km to go, while Zampieri and Albasini lasted until 6 km to go, and the bunch sprint was on the cards. Jan Ullrich was prominent near the front in the wind, but was not doing any turns today. His teammate Lorenzo Bernucci tried an attack at 4 km to go, which went nowhere, then it was up to the sprinters to sort it out.

Lampre-Fondital and Quick.Step did most of the work in the final kilometres, and Boonen went under the red flag with two teammates. Bettini did the job in marking a pre-emptive move by a Cofidis and Saunier Duval rider, before Tosatto went at just under 500m to go. The Italian did a long lead out, allowing Boonen to jump at 175m to go to take the stage win from Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank).

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