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Frank Schleck wins Tour de Suisse as Gesink cracks

Frank Schleck (seen here racing in the 2007 Tour de France)

In the end, it was coming downhill that proved to be the breaking point in what had always looked like an uphill task for Robert Gesink. His fragile advantage heading into the final time trial stage of the Tour de Suisse proved to be nowhere near enough, as he cracked on the long descent which made up the second half of today’s course to the extent that he slipped to fifth overall behind overall winner Frank Schleck.

It was no surprise when the name of Fabian Cancellara appeared at the top of the time-sheets, with David Zabriskie just behind. But then HTC-Columbia‘s Tony Martin, who had led the race early on, crossed the line with a time 17 seconds faster than Cancellara’s, ultimately enough to claim the stage win.

But the real interest came in watching the times of the riders who followed. Gesink’s lead at the beginning of the day was 29 seconds, with his primary threats being Frank Schleck (38 seconds behind) and Lance Armstrong (55). Armstrong was the first of the three to go, starting slowly but building speed over the second half of the course to come in 1:09 behind Martin with an overall time fast enough to assume leadership of the race.

Some six minutes later, Schleck rolled in. His stage time was five seconds slower than the American, but it was still enough to put him in the lead by the slender margin of 12 seconds.

With Steve Morabito and Rigoberto Uran – third and second respectively at the start of the day – failing to better Schleck’s aggregate time, that left only Gesink. The Dutchman was still ahead – just – at the intermediate checkpoint, but where the likes of Schleck and Armstrong had gained time on the descent, Gesink frittered away second after second as he struggled towards the finish. He would eventually record only the 40th-fastest time, a massive 2:09 down on Martin and slipping down the order to fifth, 27 seconds behind Schleck.

Martin was elated at his unexpected victory.

When Fabian goes out with the intention of winning, normally he will win. I am a bit surprised and I am proud to have beaten an athlete as strong as Fabian Cancellara. It is true I felt very wasted [after losing big chunks of time in the mountains] and I had to really dig deep in my heart to resist. This contributes to my surprise today to win the time trial, and it also is a nice sign before the Tour de France.

Despite leading the race early on and today’s stage win, Martin’s ambitions at the Tour de France will not extend much further than a possible top ten finish. He is not a strong enough climber to seriously challenge on climbs like the Tourmalet, in addition to which he will not be the main focus for HTC-Columbia, who will throw everything into supporting Mark Cavendish. But at 25 he is still young, and continues to develop with every passing year.

As for Gesink, it is clear his poor time-trialling will count heavily against him at the Tour. Even though there is only one major individual time trial, it is a long one at 51 km, and he is likely to lose two or even three minutes to the likes of Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins.

This week has also told us a lot about the Schleck brothers’ prospects. Andy demonstrated on stage 6 that he remains the biggest threat to Contador in the high mountains, but that the time trial remains his Achilles heel. (He finished a mediocre 31st today, 2:09 behind Martin.) Frank’s strengths and weaknesses are more balanced: he lacks his brother’s kick on the climbs, but had good form in the mountains and is a good enough time-trailer. And both will benefit from an extremely strong Saxo Bank squad which can call on Cancellara’s power on the flats, and the toughness of Jacob Fuglsang (third overall here) and Jens Voigt when things become more vertical.

As for RadioShack‘s lead trio, Armstrong was marginally the most impressive in the mountains, but has clearly lost some of his former sustained power in the long time trials. Levi Leipheimer continues to lack that critical final few percent on the climbs, but is formidable against the clock. And Andreas Klöden remains a solid all-rounder and good team man who will give everything without his ego getting in the way.

We have, in truth, learned little about the top sprinters in a bumpy race which largely favoured powerful riders rather than the pure speed merchants. Thor Hushovd put in an impressive ride to sixteenth this afternoon. And while Mark Cavendish’s form showed some signs of improvement, he is clearly not yet back to being the dominant force he was in 2008 and 2009. I fear the Tour de France may come a few weeks too soon for him in what should be a closely fought battle for the green jersey.

Beyond that, Cadel Evans will have been encouraged by the form of senior lieutenant George Hincapie, as well as that of Marcus Burghardt, who must surely have clinched a place in BMC‘s Tour team with two impressive stage wins here. Although BMC cannot hope to match the strength in depth of Saxo Bank, RadioShack or Contador’s Astana squad, they will certainly field a stronger line-up than they did at the Giro d’Italia, where Evans was frequently left to fend for himself.

So, the final major races before the Tour de France are complete. The next stop is the start ramp for the Tour prologue, which takes place in Rotterdam on July 3rd, less than two weeks away. Let battle commence.

Final General Classification
1. Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) 35:02:00

2. Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) @ 0:12

3. Jacob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank) @ 0:17

4. Steve Morabito (BMC) @ 0:23

5. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) @ 0:27

Selected others:

6. Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia) @ 0:27

8. Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) @0:48

10. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) @ 01:14

12. Thomas Lövkvist (Sky) @ 1:38

14. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) @ 1:57

16. Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo) @ 2:05

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

One Response to Frank Schleck wins Tour de Suisse as Gesink cracks

  1. Pingback: My sporting month: June 2011 « The armchair sports fan

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