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Tour de Suisse stage 6 & 7: Soler crash overshadows Kruijswijk and De Gendt wins

Stage 6: Töbel-Tägerschen to Triesenberg/Malbun, 157.7km

Rabobank‘s Steven Kruijswijk claimed his first major win with a solo attack on the hors catégorie climb to Malbun in Liechtenstein, but a dark shadow was cast over the day after a serious accident involving the Colombian Juan Mauricio Soler.

The 28-year old, who won stage two and started the day second in the general classification, crashed after 33km and was airlifted to hospital with a reported broken ankle, punctured lung, fractured skull and blood on the brain. He was put into an induced coma.

Saxo Bank-Sungard‘s Baden Cooke said Soler struck a raised kerb and was thrown into a spectator and a fence:

[He] had no time to brake at all. The fence did not move at all so Soler took the full impact.

Soler’s injury is an additional blow to a Movistar team still coming to terms with the death of Xavier Tondó in a freak accident last month, and marks the second major crash in the last six weeks after Wouter Weylandt‘s fatal crash.

The race was neutralised for a while as medics ascertained Soler’s condition, but was soon restarted. After 75km, a three-man break of Ángel Madrazo (Movistar), Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) had established a lead of nearly five minutes over the peloton. As they started the final punishing 14.4km climb they still maintained an advantage of 2½ minutes over a Leopard-Trek-led peloton driven by the familiar faces of Fabian Cancellara and Jens Voigt.

With Izagirre now on his own at the front, Leopard-Trek kept up the tempo, quickly shedding riders from the favourites’ group until there were no more than a dozen left, with Maxime Monfort and then Jakob Fuglsang taking over the pace-making duties. Izagirre was caught with 5.4km remaining, but the expected attacks failed to materialise as the favourites warily eyed the severity of the ramps still ahead of them.

Cunego successfully defended - and indeed extended - his overall lead (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

There were less than 3km remaining when Kruijswijk’s teammate Bauke Mollema finally attacked, drawing an immediate response from overall leader Damiano Cunego. Kruijswijk then made his decisive move, pulling a few seconds ahead and maintaining that gap all the way to the finish despite the best efforts of Cunego, Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) and Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) to chase him down. With Cunego forced to do the bulk of the work in the pursuit Leipheimer was able to jump ahead in the run to the finish, but he could do no more than put a small dent into Kruijswijk’s lead. Cunego was third while Fränk Schleck, for whom Leopard-Trek had worked so hard to set up, was a distant sixth, 30 seconds down.

The 24-year old Kruijswijk’s only previous win was in the prologue at the minor Tour d’Alsace in 2007. However, he has shown strong form at the Giro d’Italia, where he followed up an 18th-place finish in 2010 with an impressive ninth last month.

He said after the stage that he had been confident he was the strongest climber on the day:

For me it was clear that I was the best of the group. Then it was a matter of going full out through to the finish line. The last kilometre was very steep, but I felt very strong. Winning here is great, but the terrain and the opposition make it very special indeed.

Although he had been unable to follow Kruijswijk’s attack, Cunego was pleased with his performance – it was a fine and well-judged defensive ride – which put time into his closest rivals:

What a tough climb, with high speed in the first part, it was not so simple to face it. I think I put in a quite good performance, since I increased the gap over my immediate followers.

Rabobank had the advantage of relying on three athletes, so I decided to focus my attention on Mollema. When he attacked, I chased him and then I tried to counter attack, paying attention on pedalling smoothly. My action soon ended and so I kept my pace, but Leipheimer was on a very good day.

Stage 6 result:

1. Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) 4:12:03

2. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) +0:09

3. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) +0:18

4. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) +0:21

5. Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) same time

Stage 7: Vaduz to Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis, 222.8km

The longest stage of this year’s race took the riders out of Liechtenstein via Switzerland to Austria, where a Belgian held off a Luxemburger after a long solo break on the day’s final climb. Vacansoleil‘s Thomas De Gendt rode strongly all the way to the finish to keep Andy Schleck at arm’s length, as the latter proved his doubters wrong about his form and fitness with a solid lone ride to take second place. Damiano Cunego again produced a solid defensive ride, keeping all his key rivals at arm’s length to maintain an 83-second advantage at the end of the last high mountains stage.

Firstly, the overnight prognosis on Juan Mauricio Soler was promising, with his condition being described as ‘stable’. Movistar team doctor Alfred Zuniga said:

The news today is good. Mauricio is still at the ICU and his progress is being favourable.

The cerebral edema, which is the most worrying thing, has gone through a slight improvement and that’s why we have to stay optimistic, even though we have to keep reservations because recovery in such processes is unpredictable. The 48-72 hours following the accident are crucial, but he has gotten over the first hours, which are even more critical.

On the road, a 17-man break set the agenda for the stage, establishing a maximum advantage of 8:25. The large escape group contained some serious big names and rouleurs such as Andy Schleck, Christian Vande Velde, George Hincapie and De Gendt, who took a notable breakaway victory at Paris-Nice earlier this season. Rabobank and Lampre led the chase on behalf of the peloton and the yellow jersey, but seemed content to settle for damage limitation at the tail end of a tiring week rather than a whole-hearted pursuit. Shortly before the final first-category climb to Serfaus, De Gendt broke free of the lead group, ekeing out an advantage of one minute over his former breakaway comrades. Only Schleck had the legs to follow him up the road, and although he proved his climbing legs by halving the gap, De Gendt was always able to maintain his advantage at around half a minute.

Behind them in the ever-decreasing yellow jersey group, Cunego had a surprisingly comfortable ride despite some hectic skirmishes (as opposed to all-out attacks) among his fellow riders which frequently worked in his favour rather than against him. There was certainly no series of concerted attacks on the race leader, as every dig by one rider was almost immediately responded to by another, allowing Cunego to make relatively untroubled progress simply by following wheels.

De Gendt was rewarded for an early solo attack with the stage win

At the end, a fresh-looking De Gendt was able to celebrate for fully 35 seconds before Schleck crossed the line. with the surviving breakaway members gradually appearing in ones and twos. The yellow jersey group, containing not only Cunego but nearest rivals Mollema, Kruijswijk, Fränk Schleck and Leipheimer, finished 4:39 down. It had been an exciting final climb, but one which was largely inconsequential in terms of the overall race due to the stalemate among the top five.

While still not at his very best, Andy Schleck was happy to put in a decent display ahead of the Tour de France. One suspects that the 14 minutes he lost the previous day – which had led some to question his conditioning ahead of the Tour de France – may have been a deliberate ploy to allow him to slip away in the break here, rather than an indication of poor form. Add this performance to his sustained tempo on the Grosse Scheidegg on Monday, and I suspect Schleck is exactly where he needs to be right now – in good enough form, but with the opportunity to find that final few percent in advance of the second half of the Tour.

After the stage he said:

When De Gendt went, I considered my options. It wasn’t the perfect spot for me on the downhill, so I waited. As soon as we reached the base of the final climb, I made my move.

Going all-out on that climb felt good. It was reassuring today to see that my form is there. I still have two weeks to add to my fitness level, and I had confirmation today that I am in a good spot in my final build-up to peak condition.

With nothing more challenging than a third-category climb remaining, Cunego holds a lead of 1:23 over Bauke Mollema, with Kruijswijk, Fränk Schleck and Leipheimer all within two minutes of the yellow jersey. In reality, though, barring a major mechanical problem or physical collapse, Cunego’s advantage should be enough to guarantee overall victory. In addition to Mollema, Rabobank have three riders in the top eight overall, with Kruijswijk third and Ten Dam eighth.

The penultimate stage of the race is largely flat, but features back-to-back third and fourth-category climbs in the last 25 kilometres, followed by a 13km dash to the finish. The combination of those two hills and weary legs mean a large bunch sprint is unlikely, although any sprinters who can maintain contact over the climbs should be able to contest the finish. It is more likely to be a day for the Classics men such as Hushovd and Freire than pure speed merchants Cavendish and Greipel.

Stage 8 profile

The race concludes on Sunday with a 32km individual time trial around Schaffhausen, which includes a nasty, testing climb at two-thirds distance which is sure to burn tired legs. Fabian Cancellara will start as favourite to book-end his ‘home’ race with stage wins but expect the majority of riders, who are neither top 20 contenders nor time trial specialists, to have a relatively easy spin before heading off for a well-earned rest before their respective national championships and, in many cases, the Tour de France.

Stage 9 profile

Stage 7 result:

1. Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) 5:38:42

2. Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) +0:35

3. José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) +0:48

4. Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:51

5. Alberto Losada (Katusha) +0:54

General classification:

1. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) 27:09:49

2. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) +1:23

3. Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank)+1:36

4. Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek) +1:41

5. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) +1:59

6. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +2:38

7. Mathias Frank (BMC) +3:10

8. Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) +3:10

9. Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) +3:11

10. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) +3:22

Sprint classification:

1. Lloyd Mondory (Ag2R La Mondiale) 27 pts

2. Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) 12

3. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Syep) 11

4. José Iván Gutiérrez (Movistar) 10

5. Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 9

Mountains classification:

1. Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) 42 pts

2. Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) 35

3. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) 30

4. Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervélo) 21

5. Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) 20

Points classification:

1. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 61 pts

2. José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) 40

3. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) 38

4. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) 37

5. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) 34

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

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

Stage 4 & 5: Hushovd and Božič triumph in uphill sprints

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