Nicole Cooke Fleche Wallonne 2008

The gaps in the Grand Boucle's time trial were certainly big.

Switzerland's Karin Thürig, twice a world time trial champion, thrashed the field in the difficult 40-kilometre fifth stage from Domaine de Chalain to Clairvaux-les-Lacs.

The Cervelo Lifeforce rider's nearest challenger was her team-mate, Christiane Soeder of Austria, who was 36 seconds behind.

Third-placed Nicole Cooke, riding for Swift Racing, was 2-40 slower, with the race leader Diana Zilute conceding her yellow jersey as she came in fifth at 3-20.

Britain's Helen Wyman (Swift) was 21st at 7-36 with Emma Silversides (Lotto-Belisol) 41st at 10-50.

Overall, Thürig now leads Soeder by 39 seconds, with Cooke third at 2-35.

It puts the Cervelo team on the front foot with a healthy lead to defend in today's penultimate stage, a 102-kilometre leg that take the race to Villard-de-Lans in the Alps.

Cooke will have to attack and hope to gain some time, or else it'll leave a big job to do on Sunday's final stage, the 83 kilometres from Guillestre to Sestrieres.

While it's feasible Thürig could lose a lot of time in the mountains ? she lost 3-46 to Cooke in the final stage of last year's race, which finished at Arreau in the Pyrenees ? Cooke will know she has to be aggressive.

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Sports journalist Lionel Birnie has written professionally for Sunday Times, Procycling and of course Cycling Weekly. He is also an author, publisher, and co-founder of The Cycling Podcast. His first experience covering the Tour de France came in 1999, and he has presented The Cycling Podcast with Richard Moore and Daniel Friebe since 2013. He founded Peloton Publishing in 2010 and has ghostwritten and published the autobiography of Sean Kelly, as well as a number of other sports icons.