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Tour de Suisse 2009: Stage 7

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 Hello and welcome back to the Tour de Suisse.  Today's seventh stage is an odd one, long and with a climb at the end.  

 It's the race's longest stage, at 204 km.  It is mostly flat, with some bumps, for the first 180 km.  Then a lot happens in a short space of time:  a Category Three mountain at 196.4km, a sprint at198.5km, a Category Two climb at 202.7km, and then the finish line at km 204.

We have a group of four in the lead:  Jose Joaquin Rojas (Caisse d'Epargne), Marcus Burghardt (Columbia) and Gerald Ciolek of Milram.  They got away at about km 30-35 or so.  Damien Gaudin of Bbox went in pursuit and took a long time to catch them, but he did catch them.  Their lead is now 4:53.

152 riders were at the start this morning.  Missing were Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and Koldo Fernandez of Euskaltel.  Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto) and Juan Jose Oroz (Euskaltel)  were the first to try their luck, about 20 km into the stage, but were quickly caught.  Pavel Brut (Katusha) and Jean Eudes Demaret of Cofidis were the next to go, and were equally unsuccessful.

102km remaining from 204km

 We are halfway through the stage now, and the lead is up to five minutes.

 The weather has changed, and not for the better.  The forecast for the whole day is 17° Celsius, dropping to 12° at the finish.  It will be heavily overcast, with 90% chance of  rain much of the afternoon.  Even thundershowers are possible.  The wind should be mild, unless a storm system moves in bringing heavy gusts.

 

And it is, in fact, raining now.

There are good chances for a successful escape group today.  The long flat section invites them to get away, and the climbs at the end aren't really hard enough to necessarily throw them back.  That's assuming a handful of unthreatening riders gets away.

 

On the other hand, if one of the escapees is too high up in the GC, or the favourites get nervous for any other reason, we could seem the end of the race turning into an uphill sprint at the end. 

 Who could win today?  Someone who can climb and sprint.  How about Damiano Cunego (Lampre) or Kim Kirchen (Columbia) or Tony Martin (Columbia)?  Although we like the looiks of the riders in this escape group, too.

We are celebrating two birthdays today, although neither is directly related to this race.  Columbia's World time trial Champion Bert Grabsch turns 34.  Well, he lives in Switzerland, so there's a tie-in.

 

The other is retired racer Francesco Moser, who turns 58. 

Rojas is a 24-year-old Spaniard.  He turned pro with Astana in 2006 before joining Caisse d'Epargne the next year.  He has been quite successful, finishing third in the Tour Down Under and winning Best Young Rider this year.  Last year, he was Best Young Rider in the TDU, won the Trofeo Pollenca in the Mallorca Challenge, and was seventh in Gent-Wevelgem.  In 2007 he won the first stage of the Vuelta a Murcia, and in 2006 won the mountain ranking in Tirreno-Adriatico.

86km remaining from 204km

 The gap has picked up again, up to 5:40.

Columbia's Burghardt is the oldest of this group, at the ripe old age of 25.  He has been with this team his whole career, throught its various names.  He turned pro with T-Mobile in 2005.  He really burst on to the international scene in 2007 when he won Gent-Wevelgem, and he won a stage in the Tour de France last summer on a breakaway.  This year he finished seventh in both the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem.

Gerald Ciolek is the youngster of this group.  He will turn 23 in September, a few weeks after Gaudin.  The German turned pro with Team Akud (later Wiesenhof) in 2005 and rode for T-Mobile/Columbia from 2007 to 2008 before joining Milram this year.  He won the German national title as a teenager in an upset in 2005, and went on to win the U23 World title the next year.  His best year so far has been 2007, when he won the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfahrt, including the sprint and young rider titles, three stages in the Deutschland Tour, two stages in the Tour of Austria and a stage at the 3 Länder Tour.  He has gotten off to a slow start this season, with only one victory so far, in the Mallorca Challenge, but has been showing better form over the last few weeks.

Damien Gaudin is a few weeks older than Ciolek, turning 23 in August.  He joined Bouygues Telecom last year, and has a track background.  In 2006, the young Frenchman was national Madison champion, and national U23 Points and Pursuit champ.  In 2007 he repeated the Pursuit title, and won the U23 Pais-Roubaix.

89km remaining from 204km

 The gap is creeping up again, and is now at 5:55.

Today's course goes through seven cities, which makes it a real challenge for the security forces. Bad enough, but add into that not only the fact that it is Friday afternoon/evening but also bad weather.  

And now for our daily look at the statistics and who is leading which category.

Tadej Valjavec of AG2R continues to lead the overall rankings.  Fabian Cancellara of Saxo Bank picked up five bonus seconds to move into second place, nine seconds down.  Oliver Zaugg of Liquigas is third, at 14 seconds.

For a bit of contrast, the last three are Jose Alberto Benitez (Fuji), Hilton Clarke (Fuji) and Josef Benetseder of Vorarlberg, with the Austrian being the only rider who is over one hour down.

 Don't know why the size of the typeface keeps changing -- another bug to be worked out....

 Mark Cavendish used his second stage win to take over the points classification.  He has the same number of points (50) as Oscar Freire (Rabobank) in second place.  Lampre's Francesco Gavazzi  is third with 38 points. Interestingly enough, that is the same order in which they finished the stage yesterday.

 Enrico Gasparotto (Lampre) leads the sprint ranking.  He is three points ahead of Cancellara and six ahead of Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank).

74km remaining from 204km

 Didn't we just say that Gavazzi is third in the points ranking?  We can scratch him from the list.  He just got off of his bike and exited the race.

Columbia's Tony Martin leads the mountain classification with a whopping 60 points ahead of Astana's Maxim Iglinsky (26) and Vorarlberg's Silvere Ackermann (21).  At this point it seems unlikely that Martin will lose the jersey.

74km remaining from 204km

 The leading quartet takes on a very small climb, a bump in the road if you will, with a lead of 6:12.  That puts it over six minutes for the first time.

 Columbia's Tony Martin leads the mountain classification with a whopping 60 points ahead of Astana's Maxim Iglinsky (26) and Vorarlberg's Silvere Ackermann (21).  At this point it seems unlikely that Martin will lose the jersey.

Saxo Bank has the team ranking, ahead of Columbia and Liquigas.

Things are still close at the head of the GC. The top eight riders are within one minute of Valjavec, and the top 18 within two minutes.

64km remaining from 204km

 Can the lead really have fallen all the way to 4:50?  And it is raining again.....

Team Volksbank-Corratec has been very active in this race lately.  The Austrian Professional Continental team has had riders take off on long solo flights for the last two stages.  Stage five saw Pascal Hungerbühler go, and yesterday was Swiss rider Reto Hollenstein's turn.

 

Hollenstein had a good reason:  the stage went through his home town of Sirnach.  “I had planned this attack for a long time.  It is an undescribeable feeling, to have such a long solo flight at my Tour de Suisse debut,” the 23 year old said. 

Yesterday saw another mass sprint, another Mark Cavendish win.  That's the way it is starting to seem.  What did Cav have to say about yesterday's victory?  “There was a second category climb at the beginning of the stage and a headwind for most of the day. It made it a very hard day for me, but it was all worth it.  I came to the Tour of Switzerland because it’s the best way to prepare for the Tour de France for me and because I wanted to do some climbs. So far it’s going very well.”

 If Mark Cavendish doesn't win the mass sprints, his teammate Andre Greipel does.  Greipel just won his second consecutive stage at the Ster Elektrotoer.

Will tthe American Team Columbia-Highroad be able today to repeat its successes from yesterday?   On Thursday they were able to celebrate a hat trick (to borrow a phrase from another sport).  Cavendish won here in Tour de Suisse, Andre Greipel won in the Ster Elektrotoer, and Linda Villumsen won the opening prologue in the RaboSter women's race in the Netherlands. 

64km remaining from 204km

 It looks less and less like Burghardt will win today's stage for Columbia.  The gap has fallen to 4:00.

 This year's course was designed by former rider Beat Zberg.  The Swiss man rode professionally from 1992 to 2007, retiring the end of that year.  He was Swiss national champion in 2007, and among his successes was a stage win in the 2001 Vuelta a Espana.  He is also the elder brother of Markus Zberg, who now rides for BMC.

49km remaining from 204km

 And down, down, down goes the gap -- now at 3:45.

 Yesterday's mass sprint really was a large group, with a total of 114 riders all getting the same time.   Most of the rest of them came in within a minute.  But the very last rider to cross the finish line was an interesting one:   Linus Gerdemann, captain of the Milram team.  He came in 4:04 down, and in GC is currently 50th, exactly seven minute behind leader Tadej Valjavec.

43km remaining from 204km

 The rain continues to come down as the gap continues to come down.  What a downer.....

Ciolek may see his chances dwindling away today, but he something big to look forward to.  He will be one of Milram's co-captains at the Tour de France, as the team has just announced its line-up.  Ciolek and Linus Gerdemann will be the captains, and will be supported by Markus Fothen, Johannes Fröhlinger, Christian Knees, Niki Terpstra, Peter Velits, Fabian Wegmann and Peter Wrolich.  Reserves are Servais Knaven and Martin Velits.

39km remaining from 204km

 The quartet is holding on to a 3:45 lead.  In the rain.

 

Have we mentioned lately that it is raining?

Three Columbia riders, including Cavendish and Martin, are doing a team time trial behind a team car.  Wonder what happened to make the three of them fall back?

Apparently Martin crashed.  He got a new bike and the other two dropped back to help him back up to the peloton.  Certainly "Cav" is a fast man!

 Martin's pink mountain jersey is flapping merrily in the breeze.  It must have ripped in his crash.

31km remaining from 204km

 Hm, Martin is having a hard time.  He has gone down again, and taken a Caisse d'Epargne rider with him.  But they are up and going again.  May be hard to catch up again at this point, though.

30km remaining from 204km

The gap from the leaders to the peloton is now 2:56, and it is another 44 second back to the Martin/Cavendish group.

 The leading group has passed the first intermediate sprint, and it went in this order:  Rojas, Gaudin, and Ciolek.

 Cervelo and Rabobank are at the head of the chasing peloton.  The three Columbia riders are still weaving their way through the team autos,

And the Columbia riders have made it. They are back in the peloton, but the Caisse d'Epargne rider who also went down is not yet back up to the group.

26km remaining from 204km

 Valjavec is surrounded by his teammates in the peloton.  The gap is now 2:13.

Bernhard Eisel was the other Columbia rider who helped Martin move back up to the front. Nice to have two stage winners serving as your helpers!

24km remaining from 204km

 24 km and exctly two minuts for the leaders.  They will soon start climbing.

The Tour de Suisse had this same finale in 2004, when Robert Hunter (Rabobank) outsprinted Gregory Rast of Phonak.  The overall leader was Jan Ullrich. 

22km remaining from 204km

 What a surprise, it is raining again.  And just as they start to climb, the lucky fellows!  The gap is now under two minutes, at 1:47.

 The road goes up and the sprinters fall back.  Well, Columbia's Eisel and Cavendish have a good excuse, they worked hard to bring Martin back to the peloton.  And they have already shown their stuff in this race.

20km remaining from 204km

 Saxo Bank has jumped to the head of the peloton now.

18km remaining from 204km

 Liquigas brings Roman Krueziger up to the front of the group.

 A Garmin rider attacked.  The field pulled him back quickly, but doing so, managed to drop about 30 riders off the back.

 

The gap to the leaders is now under a minute, so the cars are being pulled over to the side.

17km remaining from 204km

 Silvere Ackermann of Vorarlberg attacks but can't get away.

15km remaining from 204km

 Only 35 seconds now for the quartet in front.

14km remaining from 204km

 The four are caught as Astana leds the chase.  The next attack goes right away, Dietziker of Vorarlberg.

 Astana and Katusha lead the peloton, with Quick Step and AG2R right behind them.

 Dietziker couldn't stay away, everyone is all together.

 A Euskaltel rider attacks and promptly has a mechanical. Oops!

 

The Caisse d'Epargne rider who went down with Martin has now dropped out, but unfortunately we still don't know his name.

11km remaining from 204km

 Katusha and Astana at the head of things here.

7km remaining from 204km

 Arvesen of Saxo Bank is the first over the mountaintop and takes the points.  With an average gradient of something like 1.4%, we find it very difficult to actually call it a mountain, though.

 And immediately we have the next intermediate sprint, won by Tony Martin ahead of Gasparotto and another Columbia rider.  That ought to guarantee Gasparaotto the sprint jersey.

3km remaining from 204km

 Kreuziger and Albasini get a slight lead on the peloton.

 Pelizotti is in the lead, with a slight lead on the other two, who in turn have a slight lead on the peloton.

 Nope, forget Pellizotti.  Wrong information.

 

Kreuziger pulls away from Albasini.

2km remaining from 204km

 Kreuziger has a 17 second lead now.

 Kreuziger wins the next mountain ranking.  Cancellara attacks and Maxime Monfort goes with him.  The Saxo Bank rider is back in the field again.

1km remaining from 204km

 Kreuziger still leads in the rain.

 Monfort is caught and Kim Kirchen attacks out of the field.

 With 300 metres to go, Kirchen catches Kreuziger and then passes him for the win!

 Kreuziger is second and a Milram rider third.

 Zaugg is fourth and Cancellara sixth.

 Yet another stage win for Team Columbia!  What a race that team is having!

 AT 175 metres, Kirchen powered his way right by Kreuziger.  The two finished  a handful of seconds ahead of the field.

This whole race has surely not gone the way Kreuziger has hoped -- remember, he is defending champion.  But he is not too sad, blowing kisses to the tv camera.

 We think it was Milram's Peter Velits in third, but are not sure. 

 That was it for today!  Thanks for joining us and check back in tomorrow for stage eight.

 

And Milram assures, us, yes, it was Peter Velits.

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