U.S. rider Christopher Horner
of the Spanish team Saunier Duval-Prodir has won Thursday's sixth leg of the Tour de Suisse, from Bürglen to Arosa over 158 kilometres. Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Fassa Bortolo) came in second at one minute and twelve seconds, straight ahead of a chasing group that contained Australian Michael Rogers
, who took third in the stage and moved to the top spot on GC, toppling former leader Jan Ullrich, 10th place finisher today.
Horner and Nibali were part of a leading trio that formed on the first slopes of the final climb - after a previous breakaway of six was brought back - and featured also Spain's Jonathan González. Both guys (neither of whom were part of the European professional peloton the past season, as the former was racing in the American circuit, and the latter was still an Under 23 boy) dropped the Illes Balears rider, and later on, with about 8k to go, the more accomplished man in yellow rode away from Nibali and powered to one of the biggest victories of his career, to the delight of at least one Swissman, his team manager - and former successful pro rider - Mauro Gianetti.
How it all unfolded
A bunch of 146 riders rolled out of Bürglen (in the Uri canton) late in the morning, but without Oscar Freire as well as Denmark's Michael Blaudzun of Team CSC. The first move came after no more than 8 km., courtesy of Thorwald Veneberg (Hol - Rabobank), Niki Aebersold (Swi - Phonak), Linus Gerdemann (Den - Team CSC; it looks like this man has never enough of early attacks!), Matej Mugleri (Slo - Liquigas) Markus Zberg (Swi - Gerolsteiner ), David Loosli (Swi - Lampre), Freddy Bichot (Fra - Francaise Des Jeux) and Pablo Lastras (Spa - Illes Balears). More additions to the front grou, Alexandre Kolobnev, Martin Elmiger and Sven Montgomery included, were made over the next kilometres.
The situation remained fluid, very fluid, while tackling the Oberlap Pass ascent, with more guys on the attack both at the front and in the chasing group, and among them also the likes of Bobby Julich and Iban Mayo. As a result of all the skirmishes above, attacks, counter-attacks and chasing efforts from the T-Mobile-led bunch, we had David Loosli on a solo lead after 30 km., Spaniards Mayo and José Luis Arrieta as closest chasers, and the peloton 43" back.
Arrieta - celebrating his 34th birthday today - and Mayo caught Loosli a dozen kilometres from the summit, but the trio were successively joined by Daniel Atienza (Cofidis) and Roberto Laiseka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), with Daniel Schnider (Phonak) and Jesús Hernández (Spa - Liberty Seguros-Würth) trying to close down the gap, and the main bunch falling 01'30" behind. Around the km. 34 point, Schnider succeeded in his attempt, turning the leading bunch - that contained no less than four Spaniards, two of whom wearing the same orange jersey - into a sextet.
And turning himself into virtual GC leader on the road as their advantage went over the two-minute mar k as they got to the top of the Hors Categorie Oberalp, with Laiseka taking the top spot from Loosli and Arrieta, and young Hernández still chasing in between. But on the next descent the Spaniard realized that his efforts were pointless and sat up, waiting for the pack to catch him. Halfway through the downhill the field, constantly led by the Magenta team, was trailing the leaders by two and a half minutes, with a group of some 20 guys - many sprinters among them - a further 01'20" adrift.
The gap increased to 03'40" around the halfway point of the stage, with Schnider - 02'17" down on Ullrich at the start today, strengthening his grip on the "virtual yellow jersey". But at the end of the apparently endless descent, the peloton became increasingly stretched out, a sign of how Ullrich's teammates were reacting at last, and upping the tempo. As a consequence, the gap fell to three minutes on the small ascent of Films, that welcomed the six-strong breakaway group as well as the chasing bunch; results at the Cat. 3 Mountain prime were: 1. Loosli, 2. Laiseka, 3. Schnider, 4. Mayo (who also had moved ahead of Ullrich in the virtual overall standings). And to 02'30" with 46k left, with Gerolsteiner and Brad McGee's Française des Jeux now helping the chase.
Arrieta got a win at the km. 39 sprint as the only birthday gift he could have today, as the peloton chasing machine had really put the hammer down, cutting the gap to 01'10" with 35k to go, and putting the yellow jersey, also in its "virtual" version, back onto Jan Ullrich's shoulders. The break could barely make it to the next hot spot sprints at Arosa (31k to go, their advantage down to 40"), where Phonak's Schnider had faster legs than the Illes Balears cyclist, and Chur (a couple kilometres later), where the Swissman repeated victory, this time ahead of Laiseka and Loosli. But as the road got back to its "uphill" mode, the race "exploded": the sextet got swallowed by the "Ullrich Group" - that was down to 25-30 men only - with Atienza as the last one to wave white flag, and Jonathan González Rios and Christopher Horner immediately counter-attacked; they were joined by Vincenzo Nibali, so that we had a Spanish-American-Sicilian trio in the lead.
For a short time only, as the Italian (nicknamed Lo Squalo dello Stretto "The Shark of the Strait", after the Strait of Messina, situated between his Sicilian hometown Messina and the southern Italian mainland) sped off on his own with about 25k to go. Nibali opened a small gap of a dozen seconds over Horner and González, and reached an advantage of 01'40" on the peloton, led by Ullrich's loyal domestique Giuseppe "Turbo" Guerini.
A brave move by this young rider, but also a "reckless" one, that costed him dearly later in the stage. His Saunier Duval-Prodir rival didn't counter immediately, but didn't give up the fight either: a few minutes later, Horner dropped González and regained Nibali's wheels, while in the meantime Martin Elmiger (Phonak) and Jens Voigt (CSC) were taking a dozen seconds out of the pack.
With 10 km. remaining, Nibali and Horner were leading that other duo Elmiger-Voigt by 01'43" - with the Spaniard still in between - and the "Ullrich bunch" by a further 30 seconds. But a couple kilometres later, the man in yellow made the winning move: Horner forced the pace and dropped the less experienced Fassaman, whole legs paid the price for his previous attack. At six km. from the line, the Californian was leading Elmiger and Voigt by 01'25" and the main bunch, - led by three-four T-Mobile guys, but with Ullrich in the middle of it, and apparently not riding too comfortably - by 02'10".
The gaps stayed the same (more or less) in the next 2-3 kilometres, also thanks to Horner's teammates from the "red bird" team, Piepoli in particular, that either moved to the front of the bunch in order to slow the pace and "protect" the escapee, or tried to chase down every move (made by Aitor González, Koldo Gil and others). With 3k to go, Horner was 01'28" ahead of Elmiger and Voigt (that caught and passed Jonathan González), with the bunch twelve more seconds adrift.
Voigt, Elmiger and González (as in Jonathan) were caught by Gil, Piepoli and González (as in Aitor), but while Horner was riding to an "historic" victory, the "Ullrich peloton" broke apart. The American fugitive held onto his lead and crossed the line with his arms raised in triumph (in fact he raised his arms well ahead crossing the line), and be cheered by Gianetti immediately afterwards. Nibali fought bravely to save his second place, and succeeded by a very slim margin, getting a proper reward for his efforts; the boy has definitely got good legs, what he needs is a bit more of experience and better race tactics. But you can be sure you're gonna hear his name again, and again, and again.
Michael Rogers won the seven-man sprint for third place and moved to the top of the GC, while two other guys from the "red bird" team (Piepoli and Jeker) made Saunier-Duval's excellent day in the saddle complete. And Ullrich? Jan led the next group of six across the line. He has lost the battle and the race leadership today, but the fight for Tour of Swiss overall is still wide open. Even if what is probably worst is that the man once more showed that, when the road tilts upwards, he's not exactly at ease. He may well get into better shape by Tour de France time, but what we saw today is not a very good sign.
Chris Horner Steals the Show
The 33 year old rider who was born in Japan scored the his first victory on European soil today in classic style. Having previously tried without success in Europe with the French team Française des Jeux (1997 to 1999), Horner, whose biggest success, until today, was the Tour de Georgia in 2003 seemed to be destined to riding (and winning) Criteriums in the USA until Saunier Duval stepped in last Autumn.
The Spanish team, who ride Scott bikes, wanted an American rider in their ranks and Chris Horner was persuaded to have one last go at the European Race scene.
However, an early season crash and injury in Tirreno-Adriatico did not seem the best omen for the year's racing as he explained at the finish.
“Since I have ridden for so long in the United States, I don’t really know the European racers. I attacked early on the climb since I saw that Ullrich and McGee did not have a lot of teammates. I didn’t think that Ullrich would bother to chase after me. I gained a little gap then accelerated again. This was my goal, to win a stage. I have had a lot of problems this season. I fell during Tirreno-Adriatico but didn’t realise straight away that I had a small fracture to my left leg. I only realised this when I returned to the United States and had an x-ray. I only started racing again at Championship of the United States at the beginning of the month."
Rogers In Yellow
Michael Rogers, whose late attack saw him take the Yellow Jersey, was more than happy with the day's events -
"The maillot jaune was my objective at the start of the stage. The stage was difficult but I managed to stay with the leading group, and I was able to accelerate at the end. Mission Accomplished. I think that had Jan Ullrich had the legs today to follow me he would have done. I want to win the Tour de Suisse but I know there are three difficult stages to come. Compared to last year I am going a lot better in the mountains. I have worked hard and these are the results. You can’t compare this race with the Tour de France but I am in better form than last year".
Schleck Continues to Impress
Once again CSC were in the thick of the action – and CSC are again entitled to sing the praises of Frank Schleck –
On the final category-1 climb towards the finish line in Arosa the group with the favourites was split in two, and while Schleck and Rogers were in the front group, Ullrich and Bradley McGee (Francaise des Jeux) had to be content with being part of the second group.
"It was really good for Frank. He was very strong on that last climb, and if he'd been a bit more daring, he would've probably done even better. But we are definitely satisfied, and Jens Voigt is with guarantee 100% ready for the Tour de France. It's obvious, that his form is peaking at the exact right time," said sports director Kim Andersen, who believes, that Schleck can advance even further in Saturday's stage, which also has a summit finish.
Ullrich – Not the worst thing
Jan Ullrich admitted to not being entirely unhappy about the loss of the yellow jersey, "although wearing it is a special honour and I would have liked to defend it," the 31-year-old said. "Now there's less pressure on our shoulders - and that's not the worst thing in the face of the upcoming tough stages."
Particularly impressive today was Giuseppe Guerini, though Ullrich also had Daniele Nardello and Stephan Schreck supporting him to nearly the end of the climb.
Stage 6 Results: Top 10 Places
1. Christopher Horner (USA - Saunier Duval-Prodir) - 04h24'43"
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita - Fassa Bortolo) - at 01'12"
3. Michael Rogers (Aus - Quick Step) - at 01'14"
4. Franck Schleck (Lux - Team CSC) - at 01'14"
5. Koldo Gil Pérez (Spa - Liberty Seguros -Würth) - at 01'14"
6. Tadej Valjavec (Slo - Phonak H.S.) - at 01'14"
7. Leonardo Piepoli (Ita - Saunier Duval-Prodir) - at 01'14"
8. Aitor González (Spa - Euskaltel-Euskadi) - at 01'14"
9. Fabian Jeker (Swi - Saunier Duval-Prodir) - at 01'14"
10. Jan Ullrich (Ger - T-Mobile) - at 01'48"
GC after Stage 6: Top 10 Places
Tour de Suisse 2005 Links
Race Preview - Part 1
Race Preview - Part 2
Race Preview - Part 3
Stage 1 Live Ticker & ResultsStage 2 Live Ticker & Results
Stage 3 Results, Report & News
Stage 4 Results, Report & News
Stage 5 Results, Report & News
1. Michael Rogers (Aus - Quick Step) - 21h28'40"
2. Jan Ullrich (Ger - T-Mobile) - at 20"
3. Bradley McGee (Aus - Francaise des Jeux) - at 22"
4. Fabian Jeker (Swi - Saunier Duval-Prodir) - at 01'11"
5. Franck Schleck (Lux - Team CSC) - at 01'27"
6. Christopher Horner (USA - Saunier Duval-Prodir) - at 01'31"
7. Aitor González (Spa - Euskaltel-Euskadi) - at 01'38"
8. Tadej Valjavec (Slo - Phonak H.S.) - at 01'39"
9. Koldo Gil Pérez (Spa - Liberty Seguros -Würth) - at 01'42"
10. Beat Zberg (Swi - Gerolsteiner) - at 01'57"