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Some slight changes on the parcours of today's Meisterschaft von Zürich. After a first lap of 71 kilometers, the course will ride over the Forch climb four times and the Pfannenstiel climb five times, the last being 17km from the finish line.
The World Cup standings at the start of today's race are as follows:
1. Johan Museeuw (Bel) 270 points
2. Paolo Bettini (Ita) 202
3. Igor Astarloa (Esp) 152
4. George Hincapie (USA) 124
5. Peter Van Petegem (Bel) 121
6. Michele Bartoli (Ita) 110
7. Andrea Tafi (Ita) 109
8. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) 100
9. Oscar Freire (Esp) 92
10. Jo Planckaert (Bel) 83
With Hincapie not riding today after last week's bad crash - although the latest news is that he hopes to start the Tour of Holland - and in spite of Museeuw's lead, the competition is still really wide open.
Bettini, "Il Grillo" (The Cricket), was last year's winner and is hoping tody to repeat last year's success.
Speaking to Gazzetta over the weekend he explained the situation in the world cup rankings between himself and Museeuw.
"Sixty eight points could be a lot or a it may be little. If I win Sunday they become nothing. At Zurich I am almost always in the action. Also with two more races left, one of them favors Museeuw (Paris-Tours) and one me (the Giro di Lombardia). I've won it last year, repeating that feat will be necessary also for my placing in the UCI rankings. But I have eyes on Johann: if it's his day, no course scares him. Hopefully he won't win, but above all else I need to stay in front and collect points for the Cup. The only time that I underated him was at Hamburg and he beat everyone."
Bettini explained his withdrawal from Denmark. "Zurich was initially in doubt, because I had put the Tour of Denmark into my program - I wanted to honor my agreements with the organizers, but from Thursday on I will be at home to recover from the last few days and prepare solely for the World Cup."
So Bettini is hoping not only to gain the lead in the World Cup today, but it would also move him to number one in the world UCI rankings.
The Meisterschaft von Zürich, now in its 89th year, was in its early years dominated by Swiss riders. Between 1914 and 1956 they won 34 out of 41 events (the race was not held in 1915 and 1916).
Henri Suter holds the record number of victories having won six times over a ten year period between 1919 and 1929. Since 1957 international riders have taken over and Swiss riders have only won 5 times.
It is one the the few races that Eddy Merckx did NOT win - the closest he came was in 1975 when he was second behind fellow Belgian Roger de Vlaeminck. Phil Anderson won the race in 1984 - two years previously the New Zealand rider Eric Mackenzie was the first to finish, but was disqualified when he failed a dope test.
Lance Armstrong is riding today with teammate Viatcheslav Ekimov who won the race in 1992. Second that year - a very young Lance Armstrong.
Another contender today will of course be last week's winner Laurent Jalabert - now in his farewell season but a rider who always seems to want to win every race he enters. He said this week on his retirement, "I hope I will be spoken to as "JaJa " in thirty years from now, like Poulidor is still named "PouPou" by the public; that is the nicest proof of having done something good."
Beautiful sunshine in Zurich today - it is ideal racing conditions and there is a small lead group away from the peloton - including Eddy Ratti of Mapei and Francesco
Lara Ruiz, while it is Saeco leading the peloton.
Museeuw and Merckx have abandoned at the feed zone! So Bettini has even more reason to try for a victory today.
A first or second place will see him take leadership in the World Cup standings - and early break - an American affair containing Livingston, Julich and Leipheimer but it was caught, meanwhile Sastre is currently leading the race.
Jalabert has punctured.
He is stretching the lead group that includes Simone Bertoletti (Lampre), Eddy Ratti (Mapei), Gianni Faresin (Gerolsteiner), Francesco Lara Ruiz (Team Coast), Kim Kirchen (Fassa).
The leading 6 men are on the climb of the Pfannenstiel - wooded in parts with a good crowd cheering the riders on.
More riders are bridging the gap. There are 57 kilometres to go and the Pfannenstiel is splitting up the peloton, which is strung out across the Swiss countryside.
Now on the descent, the riders are hitting speeds of 65 kilometres an hour.
Armstrong is very attentive. He's showing very well. Virenque is there in the chasing group as well.
Up the small Wetzwil climb and Oscar Camenzind has attacked - but is quickly countered by Ivan Basso.
8 riders are now clear but they have not yet got a large gap - the race seems back together with a drastically reduced peloton.
Camenzind and Virenque are at the front of the race.
If these two stay clear (a big IF) then that would serve Johan Museeuw very well as Bettini will not be able to take over the World Cup lead yet. Their lead is only small; behind Bettini and Armstrong are in the first chase group. Dufeax, Ratti and Sorensen have joined Camenzind and Virenque.
The rest of the chasing group have caught the leaders and they are back together. The racing is very fast but a select group of around 30 riders are at the front of the race.
Another attack - Canada (Mapei) and Bartoli (Fassa) have now got a small gap.
The chasers are reduced to around a dozen men as the pressure builds.
Meanwhile two riders have attacked the peloton and are trying to bridge the gap to Bartoli. Bartoli looks super determined today - Canada will surely just be marking him out for Bettini.
44 kilometres to go, the gap is 36 seconds.
There are 4 leaders now: Bartoli, Canada, Juan Antonio Flecha and a fourth.
They have a lead of 42 sec with Virenque taking pulls off the front.
Michele Bartoli has attacked on his own. Valoti, the Index Alexia rider, is the fourth man in the leading group.
Bartoli has about 200 meters. It is a huge effort from him, head down, face of concentration and determination - he is not looking back; it is a brave, bold move.
There seems to be little response from Flecha, Canada and Valoti - Bartoli has built a good lead in a little time.
Bartoli has 10 seconds on the three and 1 minute 21 seconds on what is left of the peloton.
The peloton is starting to get organised so it will be very difficult for Bartoli to keep his lead. Frigo at the head of the peloton. Alarm bells must be ringing now - Rebellin is there.
Bartoli, out of the saddle on the climb, but he is suddenly losing steam and the three chasers pass him - he seems to have hit the wall.
So Flecha (Banesto), Valoti (Index) and Canada (Mapei) are now just ahead of Bartoli with the peloton around 1'20'' behind. 33 kilometres to go - the lead is increasing on the peloton - up to 1' 30''.
Phonak and Gerolsteiner are taking pulls at the front of the peloton. They are pushing hard and have the lead down to 1 minute 02 already.
45 minutes to go...about 30 km for the leaders.
The lead down to 56 seconds.
Moos, the Swiss champion, is putting in a huge turn at the front of the peloton. 47 seconds....the peloton is one long line.
Paolo Valoti now at the front of the escapees - with his shaven head - he won the first stage of the Settimana Ciclista Lombarda last year, and also the Coppa Bernocchi.
The gap stays stable now.
Georg Totschnig at the front of the peloton doing great work for his Captain, Rebellin; the peloton is one long colourful ribbon streaming across the Swiss countryside.
44 seconds now. Flecha, in the lead group, had a great season last year winning 5 races while riding for the Relax team - he has moved up a division and is showing today what a classy rider he is.
25 km to go.
So Flecha, Valoti, Bartoli and Canada still in the lead, but the gap is dropping slowly as Moos still pulls the peloton along.
We are now waiting for the Pfanningstiel where it will probably explode. The leaders are almost there.
Only 36 seconds left at the foot of the climb. The team cars have to get out of the way because the remains of what was once a peloton is coming fast. The peloton is now starting to catch the escapees - the gap is dropping like an iron butterfly.
Frigo, Rebellin, Camenzind, Bettini, Dufeaux, Basso, Di Luca are in the chasing group...the big names are coming.
Camenzind at the front of the peloton now - Bettini is there tucked in behind him.
Canada is dropped from the four leaders, so three men at the front with a small gap on a very select peloton.
Armstrong is there as well. They are almost at the steepest part of the Pfanningstiel. The gap only 12 seconds...
3 km to the top now for the leaders.
Freire and Ivanov attack to try and bridge the gap!
And Ivanov looks to have bridged the gap, taking the front immediately, so Fassa have two men in the leading group!
Bartoli hasn't bluffed before as he is now dropped.
The three leaders have been caught - a complete new situation now! Now Frigo attacks!
Frigo in the lead! He has quite a gap, even though it is not really his weather. He doesn't really like the hot weather like today - he has attacked in the last km of the Pfanningstiel.
Basso is on Rebellin's wheel as the two Italians try and chase down Frigo.
So Frigo in the lead - head down - it is only a fragile lead but it is a do or die effort. And it goes up again for Frigo. He's in a difficult part now. 30 sec for Frigo.
The chasers are once again, led by Camenzind - what an effort he has made today.
Basso is dropped. Di Luca goes now on the 13 percent part of the climb.
Frigo is almost up and is pushing a really big gear now.
Rebellin, Di Luca, at the front of the chasers. The gap 26 seconds - Frigo, his face a picture of pain, as he tackles the climb.
The chasers have been caught again. Dufaux now leading the chasers, still on the climb, while Frigo descends like a mad man.
His gap is growing to 35 sec while Camenzind is doing his very best but is not getting enough support from other chasers. It is fast and furious - can Frigo hold his fragile lead over 10 kilometres?
11 guys make up the chasers group.
One against a football team, but how well are they working together?? Not very well apparently.
Armstrong takes the lead at the front of the chasers. Rebellin, Camenzind, Bettini are working together now with Armstrong, Di Luca there too. But they all give up quite quickly as they can't work together...they all do an effort but give up quite quickly.
Sastre and Bartoli there too. Bartoli on Armstrong's wheel now - Landis is also in the chasers. Ivanov is bridging the gap to Frigo.
5 km to go for Frigo. The others have been caught and it will be difficult to catch Frigo. Ivanov goes again, the gap 33 seconds.
Attacks are raining but none of them succeed.
The chase seems to lack coordination...could this be a famous victory for Frigo?
It seems to be, Pod, it would be his first World Cup victory. It's his birthday on 18th September. He will be 29 then.
Indeed, Frigo, not a man associated with one day races, is putting everything into his effort.
Bettini will have to be very careful. If he's first or second he has the lead in the world cup. First is practically impossible as this will go to Frigo; but second is still possible, but not easy.
Beautiful images along the Lac Leman in Switzerland, it's one of the nicest parts of the country.
Last km for Frigo.
Now they are coming along the lakeside - beautiful scenery - beautiful race - the small boats bobbing on the blue lake as Frigo, he does not look back, storms towards the Flamme Rouge.
It is going to be win number 7 for the year for Frigo - the Ice Man Cometh! 500 metres to go. Now it's looking out for the sprint for second - they are on their way, Bettini in fifth position.
One arm raised in salute - it is a brave and bold victory for Frigo - will Johan Museeuw keep his WC jersey??
Bettini comes through to take second place and the lead in the World Cup.
Bettini punches the air in triumph - it is only a two point lead but it is precious...
Paris-Tours and the Tour of Lombardi are the only two world cup races left.
Armstrong also sprinted and is 3rd!!! Frigo is chatting to Armstrong.
Gentili 4th and Sastre 5th, Bartoli 6th, Rebellin 7th.
Rare these days to see Armstrong involved in a sprint - but he obviously has not forgotten how.
It is really cool for all the criticism he receives!!!
It would have been even better if Armstrong took 2nd - he would have every Belgian love him!
Now Frigo says: "I have been feeling in good shape after the tour and I have been working for this race - my legs felt good so I thought I would have a go. It is a long race, a hard race, and my next objective is the race of the falling leaves." [Tour of Lombardy]
Only 31 riders have finished today.
1 Dario Frigo (Ita) Tacconi 5.56.
2 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Mapei
3 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal
4 Massimiliano Gentili Acqua @ Sapone
5 Carlos Sastre CSC
6 Michele Bartoli Fassa
7 Davide Rebellin Gerolsteiner
8 Oscar Camenzind Phonak
9 Ivan Basso Fassa Bortolo
1 Paolo Bettini 272 pts
2 Johan Museeuw 270
3 Igor Astarloa 152
4 Michele Bartoli 142
5 Dario Frigo 136
Frigo, Bettini and Armstrong on the podium, the Italian flags flying as a huge crowd watches the presentation.
So a memorable day's racing in Zurich - a Classic victory for Frigo, Bettini in World Cup triumph and Lance Armstrong rolling back the years to when he was a Classics specialist. Something for everyone, really - unless you are from Belgium... That's it from Celine and Podofdonny - thanks for reading and see you next time!