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Gesink in yellow as riders reveal form at Tour de Suisse

Stage 6 winner Robert Gesink (image courtesy of mnorri)

Yesterday was the Tour de Suisse‘s one big climbing stage. But what a day it was, covering two hors catégorie and one category 1 mountain totalling 4,761 metres’ worth of climbing. The stage was won by Rabobank‘s Robert Gesink, who rode away on his own on the upper slopes of the Albulapass and maintained his advantage on the 10 km descent to the finish at La Punt to take over the leader’s yellow jersey. Lance Armstrong and Frank Schleck were among a select group who finished 42 seconds behind, on a day when we finally got a clear indication of the climbing form of many of the key contenders for the Tour de France, which starts in just over two weeks’ time.

Overnight leader Tony Martin was quickly dropped on the lower slopes of the final climb. He would finish over two minutes down, sliding to 14th overall.

The first concerted attack from one of the major players came from Andy Schleck, who put down a savage acceleration of the type of which perhaps only he and Alberto Contador are capable, quickly distancing the others in what at first appeared to be a decisive move. However, his pace would slow just as Gesink decided to try to bridge the gap to him. The Dutchman’s gradual acceleration slowly wheeled Schleck in, and then with the sniff of victory in his nostrils he cranked it up again, putting in a second effort which surprisingly left Schleck unable to respond. Brother Frank was next to have a go, briefly pulling clear before eventually falling back into the clutches of a small group containing Armstrong which had opted to maintain a steady pace and wait for the race to come back to them, but not his RadioShack teammates Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden, who fell away but were able to minimise their losses at the end.

Gesink, however, would not be caught, cresting the Albulapass summit  alone and riding to a richly deserved victory.

After the stage, Armstrong underplayed his Tour chances, but was clearly pleased with the state of his team:

I don’t think any of us [himself, Leipheimer and Klöden] will be favourites for the Tour de France, but between the three of us you never know what can happen. We will have a strong team.

In addition, he also pronounced himself happy with his own form:

It was a very hard day, but I’m pleased with my performance.

Overall, it was an intriguing stage. Frank Schleck looked in good but not quite top shape, perfect with a view to hitting his peak as the Tour hits the Pyrenees in just over four weeks’ time. His brother has plenty of pace on tap but appears to lack a fraction in stamina – again, not a bad place to be. Armstrong lacks the explosiveness of old, but there is still clearly plenty of life in the veteran’s legs, and he will be encouraged to have outlasted his two senior teammates, both of whom will need to find that extra 5-10%  between now and the Tour.

To that list of contenders to Contador’s crown (and those such as Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins who are absent this week), we must now also add Gesink. Time-trialling is not a noted strength of his – despite his 29-second overall lead, he will not be assured of holding on to the race lead in Sunday’s closing 27 km time trial – but if he is able to maintain yesterday’s form in the Alps and Pyrenees, he will be in the mix. So too Roman Kreuziger, who is strong against the stopwatch and will most likely be joined in France by Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali, first and third respectively at last month’s Giro d’Italia.

On a more parochial note, Mark Cavendish did not start the stage. The previous day, riders from three teams who lost men in the mass crash caused by the British sprinter on Tuesday staged a protest against him. Cavendish’s injuries were not serious, but a decision was made to withdraw from the race and train separately over two major passes to put some much-needed climbing miles into his legs. He will still be present at the start of the Tour, but this is just the latest setback in what has been a compromised preparation for the biggest race of the year.

So, the Tour de Suisse remains in the balance and will not be decided for sure until Sunday. And with Contador, the Schleck brothers and Armstrong showing good form over the past week or so, the battle for the 2010 Tour de France is hotting up nicely too.

General Classification after Stage 6

1. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) 25:18:57

2. Rigoberto Uran (Caisse D’Epargne) @ 0:29

3. Steve Morabito (BMC) @ 0:36

4. Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) @ 0:38

5. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) @ 0:42

6. Matteo Carrara (Vacansoleil) @ 0:54

7. Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) @0:55

8. Oliver Zaugg (Liquigas) @ 1:01

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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