Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) is set to win the Tour of Switzerland on Sunday after moving even closer to race leader Tadej Valjavec (Ag2r) with only the final 39km individual time trial around his hometown of Berne left to ride.
Cancellara finished third in Crans Montana on Saturday behind Tony Martin (Columbia) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre). Martin jumped away in the final 500 metros and held off the rest of a select group of riders but Cancellara took the bonus seconds to move up to just four seconds behind Valjavec.
Cancellara had a terrible early season but now seems to be back at his best. He won the prologue at the Tour of California but then pulled out of the race due to illness. He then hurt his shoulder while training at home and had to play a domestique's role in the cobbled classics. He rode anonymously in the first ten days of the Giro d'Italia to work on his form and pulled out of the race before the testing Cinque Terre time trial. Since then he has been working hard and studying the Tour de France stages.
He has been climbing exceptionally well at the Tour of Switzerland but has also been favoured by the lack of major climbs in this year's Tour of Switzerland.
Race organisers IMG Suisse are desperate to have the first Swiss winner since Alex Zuelle in 2002 and seem to have given Cancellara a made to measure route with a tempting finish in his home town to convince him to go for it.
They have placed the big climbs early in the stages and used fast and not very steep roads to reach the finish at Serfaus, Vallorbe and Crans Montana. Indeed the finishes have been won by finesseur finishers such as Kim Kirchen and Tony Martin (as Columbia took six stage wins), rather than by pure climbers.
Thanks to some hard work by the Schleck brothers and the other Saxo Bank riders, Cancellara has been able to carefully mark Valjavec in the last few days and so set up overall victory.
"I won the opening time trial last Saturday but I honestly didn't think I had a chance of winning overall. I realised that perhaps I could on Wednesday in Serfaus when I finished second on the tough finish," Cancellara said.
"Fortunately I've been able to stay close to Valjavec which has also been thanks to some great work by my team mates. Now we'll see what happens in the time trial. It's a testing course and so it will be an all out 50 minute effort. That makes it difficult to say how it will go. I'm on form but so are a lot of other riders."
Do not be surprised if Cancellara goes on to win the time trial and the Tour of Switzerland by over a minute.
Tony Martin gave Team Columbia its sixth stage victory at the Tour of Switzerland in Crans-Montana. Mark Cavendish won two stages and Bernhard Eisel, Michael Albasini, Kim Kirchen and now Martin took the others.
Like his team mate Kim Kirchen on Friday, Martin attacked alone in the final kilometre and held off a strong chase by Cunego. Cancellara finished third at two seconds.
"I tried to win yesterday but it didn't work out. This time I waited for the final 500 metres and then I went for it. I saw that Cunego was getting close but I made it to the finish," he said.
Martin is an excellent time trialist but predicted that Cancellara will win Sunday's stage and take the Tour of Switzerland.
"I think I can do a good ride but I don't think anybody has a chance against Cancellara," he said.
Stage eight: Le Sentier - Crans-Montana, 182km
1. Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-Highroad
2. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre at same time
3. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank at 2sec
4. Tadej Valjavec (Slo) Ag2r
5. Kim Kirchen (Lux) Columbia-Highroad
6. Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis
7. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana
8. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas
9. Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Katusha
10. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank all same time.
Overall classification after stage eight
1. Tadej Valjavec (Slo) Ag2r
2. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank at 4sec
3. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas at 28sec
4. Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-Highroad at 39sec
5. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana at 45sec
6. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre at 54sec
7. Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Katusha at 1-01
8. Kim Kirchen (Lux) Columbia-Highroad at 1-07
9. Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis at 1-08
10. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Columbia-Highroad at 1-12
Andreas Kloden and race leader Tadej Valjavec (behind)
Stage seven: Kirchen gives Columbia another win in Switzerland
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