Stage 1: 11.06.05 Schaffhausen - Weinfelden, 169.9 km
Good Afternoon and welcome to our live coverage of Stage One of the Tour de Suisse.
If there is a race that has definitely benefited from the Pro Tour it is the Tour de Suisse. An all star cast of Tour hopefuls and Giro riders with a point to prove will assemble at Schaffhausen on June the 11th to contest 1350 kilometres of racing over 9 stages. Sprinters will have their chance on 3 stages, the testers on one 36 kilometre Time Trial, the rouleurs 2 stages and the climbers 3 stages to show their mettle.
So a race that requires a rider very talented in all cycling disciplines so no surprise to see a rider of the quality of Jan Ullrich return this year with a very strong T Mobile squad to defend his crown. Only just beaten last season after a truly heroic ride Fabian Jeker returns with a Saunier Duval team that should include Chris Horner. However, it would seem unlikely, with this years improved line up that Fabian will soar to such lofty heights again.
Among the favourites for the overall this year are Patrik Sinkewitz (Quickstep), Bobby Julich (CSC), Valverde (Illes Balears) and Dario Frigo (Fassa Bortolo). Georg Totschnig is always a rider to watch out for while two Spanish riders, Iban Mayo and Joseba Beloki (Liberty Seguros - Würth Team), will be wanting to get back to their former glories.
The gold helmet of Olympian Paolo Bettini will be in the thick of the action and his team mate Michael Rogers will be hoping for more than a solid ride.
It is probably on of the best sprinters fields the race has ever seen, with triple World Champion Oscar Freire, mixing it with him of many nicknames Torpedo Tom Boonen, Erik Zabel, Robbie McEwen and Max van Heeswijk.
One big disappointment with the race, however, is the absence of any Wild Card teams. We have often seen in the past that it is the highly motivated, smaller local teams who enliven the race and often achieve results far beyond expectations, for example Colombia Selle Italia in this years Giro. Of course fans want to see high quality fields in the biggest races, but surely there should be enough room for the smaller teams to gain great TV exposure for their sponsors?
The course map. Courtesy Tour de Suisse.
Stage 1: 11.06.05 Schaffhausen - Weinfelden, 169.9 km
Just two small cat 4 climbs should see the peloton get off to a flying start. The climbs may see the launch of breakaways but the sprinters teams should have everything nicely under control for a last gasp dash.
Daily Peloton Man to watch - Robbie McEwen - he was looking very strong in the Giro after a disappointing period of sickness. Has a very strong team that could well put a man in the break to allow other teams do the chasing.
After just 45 minutes racing Vladimir Belli (Domina Vacanze) has abandoned, but someone obviously feeling in much better shape is the Swiss rider Gregory Rast (Phonak) who has launched an attack with 140 kilometres to go.
120 kilometres to go and the escapee has around 4 minutes on a the peloton, but the sprinters teams will soon start to raise the pace.
No surprise to see Phonak making the early move, it is their Home Race and they will be highly motivated. The Phonak Hearing Systems team is:
Niki Aebersold, Aurelien Clerc, Martin Elmiger, Alexandre Moos, Gregory Rast, Daniel Schnider, Tadej Valjavec, Steve Zampieri. Expect to read those names a lot throughout this race. Moos and Valjavec will be their GC hopefuls.
So a perfect prelude to the race. Rast, the Swiss National Champion, wearing his national colours of red shirt with white cross, leading out the peloton through beautiful vineyards.
Saunier Duval (for Jeker) and the Discovery Channel are starting to work at the front of the peloton with 110 kilometres to go.
Rast. Courtesy Phonak and Tour de Suisse.
Outside his national Road race win Rast's only other success last season was the Kriterium Uzwil. He was however second on stage three of this race - so he is clearly very motivated on home soil. However it is very unlikely that his effort will succeed today, as Quickstep add some weight to the front of the peloton.
Grégory Rast (Phonak) is over the top of the 4th cat climb at Hoochstroos. Michael Albasini (Liquigas) and Toni Colom (Illes Balears) are the next two riders. The peloton now being lead by Team Illes Balears who may fancy their All rounder Alejandro Valverde in the sprint today, the pace still nowhere near frantic.
The Gerolsteiner team is René Haselbacher, Sven Montgomery, Georg Totschnig, Ronny Scholz, Fabian Wegmann, Peter Wrolich, Beat and Markus Zberg. The two Swiss brothers, Beat and Markus, are always in the thick of the action and expect to see the Gerolsteiner team at the thick of the action.
70 kilometres to go, beautiful sunshine, a colourful peloton and our Flag flying escapee with 4'23'' advantage. A mixture of riders leading the peloton, Lotto, Liquigas, Discovery all with riders at the front.
65 kilometres to go - 4'22' the gap as Rast, in his all red National kit pushes on, while the speed in the peloton heads through the feed zone. Bart Dockx (Davitamon Lotto) now setting the pace at the front.
1608 CEST - 62 km to go - the gap now under 4 minutes at 3:53 with a mixture of teams at the front of the peloton. Jan Ullrich in the yellow jersey of the leader surrounded by magenta team mates in the top half of the peloton.
60k to go and the gap dropping quickly now - down to 3'30, we see Thomas Voeckler at the rear of the peloton and also Robbie McEwen.
The crowds cheer Rast on, it is certainly a brave ride by the 25 year old, and he takes the intermediate sprint at 57 kilometres to go, with the peloton 3'17' back.
Good crowds roadside this afternoon, they are watching a race of great history and stature, as Liquigas take second and third spot on the intermediate sprint.
One of the legends of this race is the enigmatic Hugo Koblet - he won the race on three occasions - 1950, 53 and 55 - to read more about this legend click
Of course, two American riders have won this race - Lance Armstrong in 2001 after a battle royale in the mountains with Simoni, and Andy Hampsten, two years running in 1986 and 1987 - to read our recent interview with Andy, click here.
Of course, Armstrong is competing in the Dauphine Libere this afternoon, in stage 6 - he is in a chasing group a minute and a half down from a group of escapees.
1625 CEST - 50 km to go, 2'22 now the gap - it was Daniele Colli and Michael Albasini who got the intermediate sprint, 2nd and third.
48k to go - CRASH! Sebastian Hinault tumbles out of the peloton and into the grass verge - his team attend him and he is back chasing on - though he is clearly shaken. Bobby Julich and his BioPace Chainwheel again catch the eye of the TV camera, he is looking in good shape.
Well, a trio of famous jerseys - world champion Oscar Friere chats to Australian champ McEwen, while just behind is Roger Hammond in the Great Britain national jersey. 44 km to go, 2'16'' the gap.
Rast now stretches, his left leg fearful of cramp. His BMC bike appears to have a mini satellite dish attached to the saddle - good news for Gregory - still nothing behind for his camera to catch but the open road - but soon we may well see the speeding peloton approaching.
1637 CEST - 40 km to go, the gap now under two minutes at 1'57. Lotto still forcing the pace at the front, as they race across picture book countryside, the countryside looking more like a well-kept garden than er - the countryside.
1645 CEST - 35 k to go, 1'47'' the gap. Rast powers on in front of huge crowds and onto the Cat 4 climb - ooh, those legs look like they are hurting now.
He is on the small chainwheel, out of the saddle; this little climb is steep and it will be interesting to see if there are any attacks from the peloton - who are just 1'27'' back now with 32 kilometres to go.
Rast has no gears left to choose as he makes it to the top of the climb - he still has 1'18'' advantage as the peloton explodes.
A flurry of attacks sees the peloton break up on the climb, and Lastras breaks clear on the descent. The peloton pull him back, and now they catch Rast too; with 29 kilometres to go they are all back together.
1656 CEST - The peloton one long line now, Fassa moves their troops to the front of the peloton. The race ebbs and flows, the pace now slows slightly and the riders regroup into a tight bunch.
27 km to go - peace does not last long. Bouyges Telecom raise the pace, and riders start to attack and counter.
1700 CEST - 25 km to go - the peloton back to one long line as the last two kilometres of unsuccessful attacking have come to nothing.
Bettini, gold helmet glinting, moves to the front of the peloton, which benefits from his imperial presence by slowing down and regrouping once again... However, the Cricket's spell does not last long and the pace soon returns to normal.
1704 CEST - 22 km to go - Another national jersey, Cristian Moreni, flying the Italian flag, now leads the peloton. Quickstep will be fancying the chances of Tom Boonen today and flex their muscles.
21 km to go - an attack by Niki Aebersold. And Valverde!
They are brought back and Veneberg counters!
With 19 km to go, the Rabobank rider presses on and gets 7'' advantage.
1711 CEST - 17km to go - the peloton bears down on Veneberg. They catch him, and Tom Boonen is near the head of affairs as once again the pace seems to slow slightly. The sprinter's teams are playing poker with each other - tempting each other to do the work.
And we see Jason McCartney chatting to the rider of the day, Gregory Rast, at the back of the peloton.
1715 CEST - 15km to go, the peloton speeds past a golf course, Lotto now with three men on the front. Aurelien Clerc at the head of affairs dictating the pace - trying to set up Robbie McEwen for the victory.
Bettini is now at the back of the bunch - he is not a happy cyclist! He has a few words with the commissaires before rejoning the pack.
1718 CEST - 12 km to go - the peloton all together, Lotto still leading the race. The expected bunch sprint seems more and more likely. We see FdJ, for Baden Cooke, move up en masse on the right hand side of the peloton.
10 km to go. Five FdJ riders, four Quickstep but still Lotto leading these men - as a Discovery rider attacks.
7k to go, 5 seconds the gap.
Crash at the back of the peloton - Matzbacher of Lampre down.
Meanwhile, stage 6 of Dauphine Libere has just finished, and Santiago Botero has won the stage. Moncoutie in second at 23", Mancebo third at 52" and Moreau 4th at 57 sec.
1727 CEST - Back in Switzerland, the peloton regroups, and now with 4 k to go FdJ lead the peloton. The pace very high, Ullrich right at the front, and again Lotto take up the chase.
3 km to go - the peloton round a very narrow roundabout - McEwen moves towards the front...
FdJ have forced a split! And Bettini is leading out Tom Boonen - but it is Bernard Eisel (not Baden Cooke, as we first said) who gets the victory!
So fast did FdJ drive the pace that they forced a split in the peloton which saw 6 men go clear - Bettini did the perfect lead out for Boonen, but Eisel was too strong. Boonen second, Wrolich of Gerolsteiner was third.
Just to recap on a couple of things - Benoit Joachim was the Discovery Channel rider who made the attack at around 10 km to go. And also it was Paolo Valloti (Domina Vacanze) who crashed heavily at about the same time, with Matzbacher of Lampre. Still an enthralling day's racing.
Top Ten Stage Results
1 Bernhard Eisel (AUT) FDJ 4h00'07"
2 Tom Boonen (BEL) QST
3 Peter Wrolich (AUT) GST
4 Paolo Bettini (ITA) QST
5 Bradley McGee (AUS) FDJ +3"
6 Baden Cooke (AUS) FDJ
7 Fabian Cancellara (SUI) FAS +6"
8 Vladimir Gusev (RUS) CSC
9 Aurélien Clerc (SUI) PHO
10 René Haselbacher (AUT) GST
Full results to come, and thanks for joining us today!