Freire takes undulating opening stage

Sprinters catch breakaway in final kilometres

Oscar Freire has won the opening stage of the Tour de Suisse that featured five mountains over 1000 metres in altitude. The Spaniard, who profited from his team's work to catch the break of the day with less than two kilometres remaining, also took the leader's jersey. Freire is ahead of Martin Elmiger (AG2R La Mondiale) and David Loosli (Lampre), who gained enough time bonuses in the intermediate sprints to trail the three-time world champion by only four seconds. Loosli was the man of the day, as he initiated the break and was joined by Steve Zampieri (Cofidis) and Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi). The Swiss rider then took both sprints and was also first on both KOMs.

There were only 15 kilometres from the top of the 1102-metre high Chuderhüsi to the finish, but the climbs were easy enough that the sprinters realised they had to stay close and hope their teams could get the break under control. The break still had 20 seconds with three kilometres to go over a Rabobank-led peloton. With two kilometres remaining it was nine seconds, but the Rabo train, with some support from Gerolsteiner, was unstoppable and the break was caught before the flamme rouge.

Tomorrow's stage features a mountain top finish at the 1391-metre high Flumserberg.

How it unfolded

At 12:32 the riders of the 2008 Tour de Suisse rolled out from Langnau. All riders except Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott), that is. They were facing a circuit that had to be tackled three times, with five mountains over 1000 metres in altitude thrown in for good measure.

On the first of three ascents up the Chuderhüsi, 1103 metres high, a group of 23 riders stormed ahead of the field, including Jens Voigt and Fabian Cancellara (CSC), but also some sprinters like Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto). The peloton was not too far back, though, and the group was caught before the top.

On the descent it was David Loosli of Lampre who attacked. The Swiss rider quickly extended his lead to 90 seconds, chased by Steve Zampieri (Cofidis) and Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi). The three joined forces and continued to widen the gap to the peloton. After 50 kilometres they had 9'40 on the snoozing peloton. The riders were now on the second of three laps, this time tackling the Schallenberg.

The break's lead now began to fall and with 90 kilometres to go it was down to 9'04. Once over the Schallenberg the gap was only 8'12, with the peloton now waking up.

The second time up the Chuderhüsi, the gap had gone up again to 8'40, though, as the peloton made its way through some of the training grounds of Fabian Cancellara, who was safely tucked into the peloton once again.

With 55 kilometres remaining the break still had 8'16 and it started to look promising for the three escapees. But in the flat section before the Schallenberg, the gap was reduced to 5'50, with 40 kilometres remaining. With 32 kilometres to race, the first sprint of the day was won by Loosli. He also took maximum points at the first mountain sprint on the Schallenberg. With 27 kilometres remaining the field reached the top 3'35 behind the break.

Over the final mountain it was Loosli ahead of Zampieri and Landaluze, with the gap down to just a minute and a half. But now only the downhill separated the break from the finish. There was also one sprint, which Loosli took again. But the break was caught close to the final kilometre and the sprinters stretched their legs.


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