Tour de Suisse stage 4 & 5: Hushovd and Božič triumph in uphill sprints

Stage 4: Grindelwald to Huttwil, 198.4km

Garmin-Cervélo‘s Thor Hushovd powered past Peter Sagan on a difficult uphill finish in Huttwil to take the win on stage four of the Tour de Suisse. It was the Norwigian’s first victory since he claimed the world champion’s rainbow jersey last October.

On a largely flat stage featuring two closing laps around Huttwil with a tricky 3.1% incline in its final two kilometres, Quick Step‘s Sylvain Chavanel and NetApp’s Cesare Benedetti broke away from the peloton after 13km and were soon joined by AG2R‘s Lloyd Mondory to form a trio which established a maximum lead of 7:40. However, the sprinters’ teams, determined to give their fast men their first sniff of a bunch sprint, reeled them in with 18km still remaining.

However, the earliness of the catch afforded plenty of opportunities for speculative attacks. Vacansoleil‘s Sergey Lagutin initiated the first just as the peloton crossed the summit of the final, third-category climb 12km from the finish, but the three-man break survived barely 3km. NetApp’s young Czech Leopold König then launched an immediate but again short-lived counter. And finally fans’ favourite Jens Voigt (Leopard-Trek) took a flier with 4.5km, forcing the bunch into one final chase which was only concluded with 1.8km remaining.

Hushovd finally claimed his first win in the rainbow jersey

That set up the inevitable sprint finish, despite one final, futile flourish by Voigt’s teammate Stuart O’Grady at the kilometre banner. BMC‘s Alessandro Ballan tried a long-range attack from 350m out, but the slope quickly took the sting out of him and it was Sagan, who had won with a courageous climb and descent in the Alps the previous day, who seemed to have launched the decisive sprint with 250m to go. Hushovd was the only rider able to respond, and the world champion displayed his power to overhaul him in the final 50m and ease to a half-length victory. The relief on his face as he crossed the line for his first victory in eight months was all too obvious.

Marco Marcato was the best of the rest, at least a dozen lengths behind the front two. Britain’s Mark Cavendish, along with other pure sprinters such as Robbie McEwen and André Greipel, did not contest the sprint, having realised on the ascent during the first lap of Huttwil that he would not have the power to compete for the win. The overall leaders all finished in the bunch, meaning there were no significant changes in the general classification.

Hushovd was elated to have finally won in the rainbow jersey:

That was incredible. Sagan got five, ten metres on me and at first I struggled to get up to him but in the end I just managed to get the jump on him.

He talked about the pressure of wanting to honour his status as world champion:

The cameras are on you and people expect things of you. And previous world champions have honoured the rainbow jersey by winning a lot of races, so naturally you want to do the same. You always feel like you have to win and show this jersey in a respectful way.

And he also talked about the boost this victory would give him ahead of the Tour de France:

This is the perfect time for me to get this victory, a few weeks before the Tour de France. It gives me extra motivation.

I don’t know what the team’s big goals are, but normally the green jersey is (an objective) for Farrar. I would like to win a nice sprint, I might have two, three or four chances in the race on the more challenging stages.

It will be interesting to see exactly what Garmin-Cervélo’s plans are for the Tour. They have already confirmed Heinrich Haussler will not form part of the nine-man squad, and with Tyler Farrar in disappointing form, the significant changes made to the scoring for the points competition might well favour Hushovd, who is by far the superior climber, being the main focus on the flatter stages.

Stage 4 result:

1. Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo) 4:46:05

2. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) same time

3. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:02

4. José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) s/t

5. Óscar Freire (Rabobank) s/t

Stage 5: Huttwil to Tobel-Tägerschen, 204.2km

For the second day in a row, a supposedly flat stage ended in a small bunch finish favouring the power sprinters. In a chaotic, every-man-for-himself last kilometre in which the sprinters’ trains melted away to nothingness, Slovenian sprinter Borut Božič stole the stage win from under Óscar Freire‘s nose, catching him on the line after Vacansoleil teammate Marco Marcato had nearly pulled off a victory for himself with a daring break in the final 500 metres.

The day’s four-man breakaway was afforded a nine-minute lead before the inevitable chase by the peloton reeled them in with 14km to go. A brief attack by Euskaltel-Euskadi‘s Alan Pérez was easily caught with 5km to go, at which point the sprinters’ teams took over proceedings. The HTC-Highroad and Sky trains moved to the fore, conspicuously joined by André Greipel’s Omega Pharma-Lotto lead-out and the rainbow jersey of Thor Hushovd. However, it all began to fall apart as the road started to kick up in the final 1.5km. First Mark Cavendish found himself boxed in, and gradually the various sprint trains were torn asunder as their leaders fell away.

Božič ensured the win for Vacansoleil after Marcato was caught within sight of the line

As the now ragged peloton passed under the kilometre banner, Quick Step‘s Tom Boonen found himself isolated on the front and elected to try a long attack for home. But with the road kicking gradually up, he was effectively a sitting duck. Marcato came over the top of him with 500 metres left and kept going, and as Freire, Hushovd and Sagan all watched each other and hesitated, it looked like his courageous counter-attack might just work as he pulled out a gap of maybe 25 metres.

But it was not to be. With the incline sapping his legs and the others belatedly hitting the gas, he suffered the heartbreak of being swamped in the final 30 metres as Freire led the charge past him, only to be pipped on the line by Božič. It was the 30-year old’s first win of 2011, and his biggest since taking a stage of the Vuelta a España two years ago.

All the top riders in the general classification came home safely in the bunch. Damiano Cunego continues to lead Juan Mauricio Soler by 54 seconds.

The next two days takes the race back into the high mountains and will certainly shake up the top of the GC. Stage six is all about the final hors catégorie climb to the summit of the Malbun, a 14.4km ascent with an average gradient of nearly 9%.

Stage 6 profile

Stage seven starts with a long, uphill grind towards the HC Fluelapass (13km, 6.4%) at its midway point, followed by a second-category mountain and one final battle to the summit of the first-category Serfaus. This will be the final realistic opportunity for the GC contenders to gain an advantage ahead of Sunday’s concluding time trial.

Stage 7 profile

Stage 5 result:

1. Borut Božič (Vacansoleil-DCM) 4:44:48

2. Óscar Freire (Rabobank) same time

3. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

4. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) s/t

5. José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) s/t

General classification:

1. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) 17:14:11

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) 27 pts

2. Alessandro Bazzana (Type 1) 7

3. Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 6

4. Jens Voigt (Leopard-Trek) 6

5. José Iván Gutiérrez (Movistar) 6

Mountains classification:

1. Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) 34 pts

2. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) 24

3. Matti Breschel (Rabobank) 20

4. Lloyd Mondory (Ag2R La Mondiale) 17

5. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervélo) 15

Points classification:

1. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 61 pts

2. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) 38

3. Óscar Freire (Rabobank) 31

4. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) 27

5. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) 26

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

Tour de Suisse recaps

Stage 1: No surprise as Cancellara wins opening time trial

Stage 2 & 3: Soler and Sagan win on up-and-down days

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