It's all about the detail. Seeking his first victory since landing the rainbow jersey in last September's world time trial championships, Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara scorched to a dominant win on today's sunny opening stage of the Tour de Suisse.
The CSC rider tore around the mainly flat, very technical 3.8 kilometre course in Olten to finish a full eight seconds clear of Italian sprinter Daniele Bennati (Lampre). It was, he said afterwards, a victory which was due in part to his thorough preparation beforehand.
"I rode the course eight times this morning to become familiar with this prologue," he told the press following the stage. "Even considering that, I was a bit surprised by it [the tight corners] as during the race I was going much faster than in training.
"This victory is very good for me. I am happy as it is my first win since Salzburg, where I took the world championship. I have been trying since then to win another race, but the luck wasn't there. It is a good feeling to get back to winning."
He said that the prologue was a big goal for him in the weeks leading up to the race. "This is almost like a present for my family because recently I have been spending a lot of time training. I made a lot of sacrifices for this prologue, and I think my margin of victory is due to everything coming together here."
Cancellara won the short opening TT back in 2003, taking the race lead in Egerkingen. He lost it the following day to the stage winner Alexandre Vinokourov but now, four years older and stronger, and with the Kazakh several hundred kilometres away at the Dauphiné Libéré, he wants to hang on to it a while longer.
"I would like to continue in this jersey of leader for as long as possible," he stated. "When I had it in this race before I lost it after only 24 hours. I will go for the bonifications tomorrow to try to make sure I hold on."
José Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne) was disappointed with his third place. When he spoke to Cyclingnews he was lying in second position, having narrowly failed to beat longtime leader Bennati. His response reflects this small difference in time, although this became irrelevant when Cancellara went a full nine seconds better than him.
"I am not happy with that result because I was hoping to win," he said in Spanish as he recovered from his effort. "I missed out by just one second and that is not good…I don't like to lose out like that."
Gerolsteiner's Stefan Schumacher was also unhappy, having finished 12 second off Cancellara in 12th place. "It was not so good. I am not happy with this result. I didn't feel good in the turns, I lost some time there. Also there was a corner out on the course, just before it starts to go downhill, and there was a ***ing helicopter there, causing a lot of turbulence. It was hard to control the bike. I'm not happy about that."
He will be riding his first Tour de France this season and so a good showing during the Tour de Suisse would boost his confidence. "I am not sure how my form is right now," said the Amstel Gold winner. "Hopefully it is okay and the race goes well."
Another rider aiming for a strong performance is Discovery Channel's Janez Brajkovic. He hit the deck during the race, crossing the line with his race number hanging off, small scratches on his limbs and smatterings of sandy earth on his skin and clothing. The young Slovenian finished an excellent fifth overall in 2006 and came into the race motivated to do well; losing 34 seconds on day one and placing only 154th is a big frustration.
"I went a little bit too fast into the right hand corner and then the left hand one came straight afterwards," he said, brushing off the dust. "I hit the ground with my pedal and went into the ditch. I was lucky that it was only on the dirt and the crash was not too bad.
"My time was 4'52 and for sure I lost 15 seconds there. For me I think that is okay, but I am really disappointed. My goal coming into the race was a top ten overall but I don't know now. I have a pain in my leg. I am really disappointed right now, but I suppose I have a couple of days before the tough stages take place."
How it unfolded
Volksbank rider Florian Stalder got the 2007 Tour de Suisse off to a start when he began his race against the clock at 15.45 CET. His time of 4'52 stood for just under nine minutes before Alessandro Proni (Quick Step – Innergetic) recorded a 4'35. Four minutes later Gianni Meersman (Discovery Channel) went a second quicker again on the fast, technical course, setting a strong pace which would eventually net him 17th on the stage.
Thirteen riders came and went before there was a change to the top of the leader board. Spurred on by the cheers of his compatriots, Swiss rider Beat Zberg (Gerolsteiner) posted a very respectable 4'33, only to see this beaten 11-odd minutes later by CSC rider Stuart O'Grady's 4'30.
The Paris-Roubaix winner's reign as maillot jaune virtuel lasted just over half an hour before 2006 Tour de Suisse points victor Daniele Bennati (Lampre Fondital) scorched the course with a 4'28. Many of the big names tried and failed to beat this, with riders such as José Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne), Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), Andreas Klöden (Astana), Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d'Epargne), Carlos Sastre, Frank Schleck (both CSC), Chris Horner (Predictor Lotto) and Thomas Dekker (Rabobank) falling between one and 13 seconds short. Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel) lost even more time, conceding 26 seconds to Bennati after crashing during his effort.
Things were looking promising for the Lampre rider. However Cancellara was still to go and the world time trial champion set a blistering pace to deny the Italian. Showing the same kind of speed which won him the Tour de France prologue in 2004, he thundered around the technical 3.8 kilometre parcours in a time of 4'20. He was followed home by the last man off, former TT champ Michael Rogers (T-Mobile), but his pace was never threatened by the Aussie.
Cancellara's margin of victory was huge, and so too his satisfaction at taking yellow on home soil. Defending that lead on stage two to Luzern is a big goal but, for now, he'll relax and spend a few hours savouring his first win since the worlds in Salzburg. It's been a bit of a drought but the form is looking good for the Tour prologue in three weeks time.
The 2007 Tour de Suisse continues with a 157.2 kilometres stage from Olten to Luzern. It features two intermediate sprints plus a category three and a category four climb, all coming inside the final 31.2 kilometres.
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