Gil grabs win and yellow jersey

Spanish climber Koldo Gil Perez took what he consider his best career result when he won the difficult sixth stage of the Tour de Suisse in La Punt. On the final hors categorie climb of the Albulapass, the Saunier Duval rider jumped away from a small lead group which had been considerably diminished by the driving of the T-Mobile team and then a hard acceleration by Jan Ullrich. He caught and passed lone leader Simon Gerrans (AG2R Prévoyance) before the summit and then raced down the descent to take a very impressive win.

Gil too a stage win in the 2005 Giro and was victorious in the overall classification of the Bicicleta Vasca earlier this year, but considers this his best race to date. “My stage win in the Tour of Italy was very important for me, especially as it was my first major victory, but to win here ahead of riders such as Ullrich has probably more value. I’m very happy,” said Gil after the finish.

“I took it step by step today. I don’t have a lot of experience at this level of races, so it was very difficult for me. But the more difficult it is, the more I am satisfied with what I achieve.

“David Canada, José Angel Marchante and myself are the three riders on form in the team here. When we set out this morning I was the one who felt best in the first few kilometres, and so I am very thankful for the help I got from the other two. We were all riding aggressively. In the end, when Ullrich was pushing the pace, I had the help of my team-mates and so I was fresh when I made my move.”

A break went clear soon after the start in Fiesch and had opened up a good gap by the time they topped the Furkapass. They continunued to work hard and then on the final climb before the descent down to the finish, 2005 Tour de France mountains jersey winner Michael Rasmussen accelerated out of the group and struck for home. He blew up before the top, though, with Gerrans then racing by and making a big bid for the stage victory. However it was Gil who was best on the hors categorie ascent, cresting the summit alone and holding his advantage on the tricky, technical descent down to the finish. He crossed the line 36 seconds clear of Jorg Jaksche (Team Wurth) and a further four ahead of Ullrich.

As he himself predicted yesterday, overnight race leader Angel Vicioso had a tough time on the hors categorie climbs and trailed in 2 minutes and 9 seconds down in ninth place. The result saw Gil consequently vault to the top of the general classification with three stages remaining. He is now 34 seconds clear of Jaksche with Ullrich 54 seconds back.

Gil joked in the press conference that he would need “five minutes” to hold off Ullrich in the concluding 30 kilometre time trial, then gave a more serious assessment. “Everyone knows how good Ullrich is in the time trial, so I think I will need a minute and a half to have a chance of winning.

“I will try to get more time. Tomorrow is very long, I need to see how my body reacts to this stage. Obviously we are in the lead and we need to profit from it, so I will try to get more time. The goal of the team is to win the Tour de Suisse. David Canada won the Vuelta Catalunya, Marchante won the Tour de Pays Basque, so I will try to win this Tour. This is difficult though at the moment because I don’t have much of an advantage over Ullrich, so I need to try to get more seconds.”

Despite his good form, Gil isn’t planning on riding the Tour. “I have discussed that a lot with my team. I don’t have much experience with races of three weeks in length. I prefer to arrive in top condition for the Vuelta rather than doing the Tour, so I won’t do the Tour de France this year.”

One rider who will very much be racing to win in July is Jan Ullrich. He is clearly in much better climbing form than in the Giro d’Italia and if he continues to build strength and lose weight, will have a great chance of taking yellow to Paris.

Team-mate Linus Gerdemann was tired but satisfied at the finish. “I worked for Jan today…it was a hard stage. I think he is getting stronger and will be in good shape for the Tour.”

How it unfolded

Today was a journey tailored for the climbing specialists: two hors catégorie climbs over 2,300 metres and one first catégorie, with the finish in La Punt 1,700 metres above sea level.

150 riders left for their 212,2 kilometre journey from Fiesch this morning. As expected, a small group took off early in the peace to hopefully steal a chance at glory: Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Alexandre Moos (Phonak), Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Francesco Bellotti (Credit Agricole), Michael Albasini (Liquigas) and Simon Gerrans (AG2R Prevoyance) comprising the sextet.

A few kilometres later, another group of four containing Axel Merckx (Phonak), Constantino Zaballa (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Salvatore Commesso (Lampre-Fondital) and Andreas Dietziker (Team L.P.R.) went off in pursuit, but at the top of the Furkapass (km 40), the quartet were two minutes behind, with the peloton a further 3'30 back.

At the base of the Oberalppass and roughly 150 kilometres from the finish, the lead six were nine minutes in front, while the second group was swept up by the peloton. As a consequence, Albasini, the best-placed rider on GC in the break, had become the maillot jaune virtuel by more than a minute.

50 kilometres later and with a century to go, the sextet were enjoying a ten-minute advantage. Starting the final climb for real, seven minutes ahead of the peloton and 37 kilometres from home, one of these six had a real chance of victory - so long as they still had the legs.

26 kilometres from the line, 2005 Tour de France mountains winner Rasmussen accelerated, with Moos the only rider able to go with him. However, less than a kilometre later and 15 kilometres from the summit of the Albulapass, the 'Chicken' was alone and had flown the coup.

With 23 kilometres to go, Saunier Duval's Oliver Zaugg attacked the peloton, but the magenta-led groupe maillot jaune weren't letting him go too far, and the Swiss was caught soon thereafter. The bunch was now just four and half minutes behind Rasmussen, prompting an attack from another Saunier Duval rider, José Angel Gomez Marchante.

Jan Ullrich still had Kim Kirchen, Patrik Sinkewitz and Giuseppe Guerini for company, leading to a brief regrouping, although a kilometre later, just five remained - Kirchen, Ullrich (T-Mobile), Jaksche (Würth), Gil Perez and Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval) - with maillot jaune Angel Viciso (Würth) losing ground by the second.

Surprisingly, Rasmussen began to fade towards the top, and 18 kilometres from the finish, plucky AG2R rider Simon Gerrans' solid tempo riding eventually saw him catch and pass the Dane.

However, the Tour Down Under champ's thoughts of a solo victory were dashed two kilometres from the summit, with Gerrans only catching a glimpse of a flying Koldo Gil (Saunier Duval), already 38 seconds ahead of a trio containing Ullrich, Jaksche and Gomez Marchante, and 1'38 ahead of the groupe maillot jaune, now just five strong and containing Vicioso, Giampaolo Caruso (Würth), Frank Schleck (CSC), and Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel).

At the summit of the Albulapass, signaling just over 10 kilometres to go, Gil had 41 seconds on Ullrich and Jaksche, while Gerrans (AG2R Prevoyance) and Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval) were a further 15 seconds behind. Vicioso came over the top with the same four companions 1'52 after Gil, his race lead well and truly under siege.

Down into the valley, Gil gave it his all, losing little time to Ullrich and Jaksche and doing more than enough to come home a worthy stage winner, donning the golden fleece moments later. 36 seconds after Gil, Jaksche finished second, four seconds ahead of Ullrich, followed by Gomez Marchante and Gerrans another minute behind, the Australian best of the early breakaway.

Led home by CSC's Frank Schleck, the next group contained the maillot jaune of Vicisio, his two minute and nine second deficit toppling the Spaniard from first to fifth overall.

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