Leaderboard at status quo
Oscar Freire (Rabobank) pulled off an impressive solo win in the seventh stage of the Tour de Suisse, with a cheeky attack in the closing kilometres to drop his four breakaway companions and hold off the peloton by just 3 seconds. The sprinters had to settle for second place, with Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) edging out Erik Zabel (Milram) for the honours. The overall classification remained unchanged, with Koldo Gil (Saunier Duval) still in the lead.
Freire was one of four survivors of an early break, the others being Salvatore Commesso (Lampre-Fondital), Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) and Matthew White (Discovery Channel). With a hard charging peloton chasing them all the way into Ascona, there wasn't much room for tactics. But Oscarito surprised everyone by jumping over a median strip with 5 km to go to take the shortest way around a roundabout...and he was gone.
When asked afterwards whether his move was a little risky, Freire replied, "Yes, but the road itself was very dangerous. There were many turns and roundabouts, and because of the rain it made it more difficult. The jump wasn’t too hard but the dangerous thing was that I had to avoid the car that was passing. After that, I was happy that I did the finish like that.
"This is not my first victory of the year but my fifth. It is always hard to come back after a difficult year. I feel I am in very good shape now and I feel ready for the Tour de France. This is obviously an important victory for me."
As the best sprinter there, Freire was the marked man in the break, but he still managed to pull it off. "Everybody tried to play their cards. Nobody wanted to reach the finish with me, but when anyone attacked I always tried to close them down. The fact that I was always there probably helped me win the stage."
Race leader Koldo Gil said he will try to take more time out of his rivals in tomorrow's tough mountain stage: "Tomorrow will be the last chance to take time from Jaksche and Ullrich and so increase my lead before the time trial. I like the stage, it looks difficult and seems to be a stage that could suit me. It all depends on how I recover tonight. But today I felt really good so I am not worried too much about tomorrow."
How it unfolded
Beginning 1,775 metres above sea level at the famous ski resort of St. Moritz, the 145 remaining riders left the Plazza dal Rosatsch Ascona and immediately began the climb to the crest of the catégorie 2 Julierpass.
Before the summit, mountains leader Michael Albasini (Liquigas) attacked to gain maximum points. But as he was brought back, a series of attacks followed on the long descent, though none successful.
Just shy of the 50 kilometre mark (187km to go), 20 riders tried their luck, with all but two - Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and White (Discovery Channel) - reeled back into the main field. Around five kilometres later, a group of six - David Herrero (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Martin Elmiger (Phonak), Michael Rogers (T-Mobile Team), Salvatore Commesso (Lampre-Fondital), Beat Zberg (Gerolsteiner) and Matthieu Sprick (Bouygues Telecom) - bridged to Freire and White to form the day's break.
15 kilometres later, the octet enjoyed a 3'42 lead over the peloton, and with 120 kilometres remaining, they attained their maximum advantage of nine minutes. Herrero, the best-placed on GC in the break, 6'51 behind race leader Koldo Gil (Saunier Duval-Prodir) at the start of the day, had also become the maillot jaune virtuel by a little over two minutes.
Continuing to ride as one on the catégorie 1 Lukmanierpass, by the crest of the 1,740 metre-high ascent, the eight riders still had a lead of six minutes plus 90 kilometres from the finish. Equally, the peloton worked together to contain their gap to the breakaway, with Herrero's maillot jaune virtuel no longer.
30 kilometres out from the finish in Ascona, the octet were just three-and-a-half minutes in front, but it was still likely one of the eight would be taking home stage honours today. Likely, but not a certainty...
... With the cat-and-mouse starting perhaps a tad too early, the rhythm of the break was broken, and inside 15 kilometres to go, their advantage was now under a minute.
12 kilometres from home, Commesso (Lampre-Fondital) and Rogers (T-Mobile Team) escaped, quickly distancing themselves. But another two weren't ready to give in, and five clicks later, Freire (Rabobank) and White (Discovery Channel) bridged to make what appeared to be the winning quartet.
Five kilometres from Ascona, Freire displayed some superb skills to bunny-hop a median strip with apparent ease and leapfrog to the other side of the road, catching his three companions by total surprise, who could only turn their heads in amazement, looking like a trio of stunned mullets.
Freire's timing could not have been more perfect.
As the peloton hunted down and caught the rest of the break, the three-time world champion held off the bunch by the barest of margins. Three seconds was the margin between fortune and misfortune, with Oscarito poking his tongue out in relief and a smile from eye to eye as he crossed the line.
When Tom Boonen knew the stage was gone, the rainbow-striped Quick.Stepper turned off his afterburners, while Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) outsprinted Erik Zabel (Milram) for second and third respectively, and leaving the GC leaderboard at status quo.
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