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Tour de Suisse stage 2 & 3: Soler and Sagan win on up-and-down days

Stage 2: Airolo to Crans-Montana, 149km

Movistar‘s Juan Mauricio Soler announced his return to form as he proved to be the strongest man on the uphill finish at Crans-Montana. The Colombian climbing specialist accelerated away from an elite group to earn both the stage win and the yellow jersey. It was his first win in four years and came a year after a knee injury sustained at the Critérium du Dauphiné put him out of the 2010 Tour de France.

There was no easing into the first full day’s racing at the Tour de Suisse, with the peloton facing the hors catégorie Nufenenpass, with its summit at 2,478m, right from the gun. Rabobank‘s Matti Breschel led over the summit, while on the descent AG2R‘s Lloyd Mondory and Soler’s Movistar teammate José Iván Gutiérrez combined on the descent to build a four-minute lead on the long run to the base of the Crans-Montana climb.

The peloton heads for the lofty Nufenenpass on stage 2 (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

At the start of the final climb with around 19km to go, the duo’s advantage was barely two minutes as the peloton, led by the familiar figure of Jens Voigt at the front, bore down on them. Although the gradient was far from the steepest the riders will encounter this week several riders, including the yellow jersey of Fabian Cancellara, were soon distanced. The winner of the first stage would finish over 17 minutes down, no doubt conserving his energies for next Sunday’s concluding individual time trial.

The first major attack came from Rabobank’s Pieter Weening, who shot off the front of the peloton and quickly passed the breakaway pair with 14km to go. But a couple of accelerations by Fränk Schleck soon brought Weening back and whittled the peloton down to a selection of about 15 riders. Sky‘s Chris Froome was the next to attack, with Andy Schleck sitting up either unable to follow or opting not to, and a further burst by his elder brother piled further pressure on the elite group.

Soler's first win since 2007 put him in the yellow jersey

Another Rabobank rider, Steven Kruijswijk (who was ninth at the Giro last month) then broke away at the front, taking Danilo Di Luca (Katusha) and Mathias Frank (BMC) with him. They were able to stretch out a lead of over 20 seconds, but were eventually brought back with 2.6km remaining. Now numbering 15 again, the reintegrated lead group attacked the final uphill kick to the finish. Fränk Schleck kicked yet again at 1.5km, reducing the contenders for the stage win to five, but it was two attacks by Soler in the final 1,100 metres – either side of a dig by Lampre‘s Damiano Cunego – which finally decided the race. His second acceleration came with about 600 metres to go, and none of the others were able to respond as he pulled out a 12-second advantage to claim the win. Cunego outsprinted Frank for second.

Soler was delighted to find himself back among the contenders in the mountains, and said he hoped to defend the yellow jersey after taking it over from Cancellara:

I’m really happy, this is an important win for me because this is a top-ranked race and because I had spent four years without winning. I was in need for it.

This tour has just started and it will be difficult to keep the yellow jersey, but I have a strong team and we’ll try to stay on front.

This was a good stage for Soler but also for Fränk Schleck, who displayed some punchy accelerations to prove his form, and for Rabobank as a team, with Breschel, Weening and Kruijswijk all featuring strongly and confirming them as a force to be reckoned with in the Tour de France’s high mountains next month. The jury is out on Andy Schleck and Cancellara, who will save their efforts for other days.

Stage 2 result:

1. Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez (Movistar) 4:23:20

2. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) +0:12

3. Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek) same time

4. Danilo Di Luca (Katusha) +0:16

5. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) +0:18

Stage 3: Brigue-Glis to Grindelwald, 107.6km

A second day of spectacular towering climbs, but one in stark contrast to the preceding stage, as rain and mist made life miserable for the riders on the first-category Grimselpass, and the critical action of the stage took place on the descent from the hors catégorie Grosse Scheidegg. Liquigas‘s Peter Sagan won the stage after a courageous high-speed chase into Grindelwald. But the riders of the day were Andy Schleck, who set the tempo for long spells at the front, and Damiano Cunego, who rode solo to bridge across to the leaders and then flew down the descent to take second place and, more importantly, the yellow jersey.

Cold, wet and miserable conditions, combined with a long, gruelling ascent from the start all the way up to the summit of the Grimselpass shattered the peloton on the climb, with a large group of 31 riders going clear early on and eventually splitting into three smaller groups. Two Dutchmen, Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), were the first over the summit. Thankfully conditions improved as the riders approached the Grosse Scheidegg, a 16.3km climb with an average gradient of 7.7% and steeper sections of up to 22%.

Andy Schleck gave his climbing legs a good run-out on the two major climbs on stage three (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Andy Schleck, who had sat up on the previous day’s final climb, had been prominent at the front of the pack on the Grimselpass and was so again on the Scheidegg, setting the tempo on the front of the leaders’ group in pursuit of Jan Bakelants, who had attacked at the base of the climb but was caught with 20km to go, with more than half the climb still to go. Schleck continued to tap out a steady rhythm which kept the pressure on and discouraged any attacks. It was an impressive show of sustained pace from one of the big favourites for next month’s Tour de France, and one which suggests his form is not bad at all.

Meanwhile Cunego, who was stuck in the yellow jersey group around two minutes behind, decided to make his move, launching an audacious attack in the final kilometres of the climb in an attempt to bridge the gap on his own. He rapidly closed in, overtaking stragglers who had dropped off the back of the lead group, forcing a reaction from Soler, who gave chase on his own to try to protect his overall lead. Such was Cunego’s pace that he caught the leaders before the summit and continued straight past them to continue the 10.5km descent to the finish solo.

Sagan ambushed Cunego to take stage three (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

What then followed was a spell-binding and occasionally terrifying display of descending on a road full of tight bends and switchbacks with occasional patches of standing water and frequent open drops ready to catch anyone who misjudged their lines and speed. On several occasions Cunego and his pursuers Ten Dam, Sagan and the latter’s Liquigas teammate Cristiano Salerno, slipped and slithered on damp patches, struggling to keep their bikes pointing in the desired direction. BMC‘s George Hincapie said he hit 90kph at one point, while sprint ace Mark Cavendish tweeted that he had touched a mind-boggling 107kph.

Ten Dam was passed by Salerno early on the descent, who effectively acted as a pilot fish for Sagan on the descent – at least until he crashed heavily, suffering a suspected broken collarbone. But Sagan continued undeterred, catching Cunego with 2.5km to go and then sitting on his wheel, safe in the knowledge that the Italian would have to continue at pace in his pursuit of the overall lead. Sure enough, Cunego piled on in time-trial mode, allowing Sagan to sweep around him with 200 metres to go to snatch the win. Jakob Fuglsang and Ten Dam arrived together 21 seconds later, with the Dane edging out the Dutchman for third.

Nonetheless, with Soler losing 1:04 to him, Cunego received the not insignificant consolation prize of the yellow jersey. Afterwards he said:

I surprised myself how good I was going up the [second] climb. When you have good form, you just don’t feel the pain as much.

I hope to keep the yellow jersey over the next two days, which are not too difficult, but there are some tough mountain stages left and a finishing time trial.

Stage winner Sagan thanked his injured teammate:

I knew that I was feeling good, and since the first kilometres I felt that it could be a good day. When I saw the break go I reacted instinctively and I went with it.

With the invaluable assistance of Salerno, I got over the climbs without wasting too much energy then, when Cunego went I preferred to wait for the descent to catch him up. In the last four kilometres I managed to catch him and join him; just enough time to draw breath and launch my final sprint.

It had been a thrilling climax to a stage which provided a useful workout for Andy Schleck, who is clearly not overly concerned about his overall position here, and Cunego, who skipped the Giro this year to focus on the Tour. Fränk Schleck will also be pleased with his efforts – although not in the attacking mode he had been the previous day, he rode strongly to finish alongside Soler. The defending champion is sixth, 1:25 behind Cunego.

The next two days should see the focus switch over to the sprinters, although neither stage features a simple flat finish. Stage four includes a third-category climb just 12km for the finish, followed by a couple of awkward uphill kicks which may favour Classics specialists over pure sprinters such as Cavendish. Stage five is the more likely of the two to conclude with a more traditional mass sprint. Neither is likely to present many problems for Cunego and the other top GC men, for whom hostilities will resume on Thursday.

Stage 4 profile

Stage 5 profile

Stage 3 result:

1. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 3:09:47

2. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) same time

3. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +0:21

4. Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) same time

5. Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) +0:48

General classification:

1. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) 7:43:16

2. Juan Mauricio Soler (Movistar) +0:54

3. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) +1:16

4. Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) +1:19

5. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) +1:21

6. Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek) +1:25

7. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +1:32

8. Danilo Di Luca (Katusha) +1:53

9. Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank)+2:00

10. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) +2:10

Sprint classification:

1. Lloyd Mondory (Ag2R La Mondiale) 12 pts

2. Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 6

3. Jens Voigt (Leopard-Trek) 6

4. José Iván Gutiérrez (Movistar) 6

5. Daryl Impey (NetApp) 3

Mountains classification:

1. Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) 31 pts

2. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) 24

3. Matti Breschel (Rabobank) 20

4. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervélo) 15

5. Mathias Frank (BMC) 12

Points classification:

1. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 25 pts

2. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) 25

3. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) 24

4. Juan Mauricio Soler (Movistar) 19

5. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) 18

Links: Tour de Suisse official website (French/German), Steephill.tv

Tour de Suisse recaps

Stage 1: No surprise as Cancellara wins opening time trial

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

9 Responses to Tour de Suisse stage 2 & 3: Soler and Sagan win on up-and-down days

  1. Sheree says:

    Good to see Soler returning to form. I look forward to his duel with David Moncoutie in July for the KOM jersey.

    • Tim says:

      It should be a good battle, especially with the way the KoM scoring has been changed to favour the pure climbers, with extra emphasis on the big summit finishes. There shouldn’t be any quietly ghosting one’s way to the KoM jersey the way Anthony Charteau did last year.

  2. Pingback: Tour de Suisse stage 4 & 5: Hushovd and Božič triumph in uphill sprints « The armchair sports fan

  3. Sheree says:

    Absolutely, but nontheless you still have to admire Charteau for exploiting the opportunity.

    • Tim says:

      Agree about Charteau. It was just a shame that on the big final climbing day with so many points available he was nowhere to be seen. In an ideal world, all the jerseys would be won in swashbuckling style – but a win is a win!

  4. Sheree says:

    Oh, no, curse of the commentator strikes yet again. Poor Soler, another crash, this time much more serious than his previous ones. I hope he has a speedy recovery. He’s not going to be competing for the spotted jersey and probably not racing again this season.

    • Tim says:

      According to Matt Rendell, Soler hit a curb, was thrown over the barrier and hit a spectator. He had to have his lung drained and was put into an induced coma. We can only wish him well. So unfortunate!

  5. Pingback: Tour de Suisse stage 6 & 7: Soler crash overshadows Kruijswijk and De Gendt wins « The armchair sports fan

  6. Pingback: Tour de Suisse stage 8 & 9: Sagan and Cancellara doubles, Cunego has his Fignon moment « The armchair sports fan

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