A short but mercilessly steep climb in the closing kilometres of the Tour de Suisse’s stage three saw Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck claim a hard-fought lone win a few seconds ahead of a shredded peloton.
Schleck’s team-mate Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) flailed slightly on the punishing 11 per cent climb, losing the overall lead to Germany’s Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia). But the huge hug Cancellara gave Schleck after the finish indicated that although yeilding the yellow jersey was a disappointment for ‘Spartacus’, Frank Schleck’s win almost made up for it.
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Rather than Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, Cancellara’s favoured terrain, Suisse’s rollercoaster stage three finish was more reminiscent of the Ardennes Classics. And in the densely wooded final climb – perhaps 400 metres long, but relentlessly steep – Martin was the first rider to burst clear.
The German miscalculated his strength slightly and eased up just before the summit, allowing Frank Schleck, a former Amstel Gold winner, to move ahead. But the German still had enough left in the tank to hold on for tenth place and the overall lead.
The margins amongst the top contenders remain very small, though. Martin is just one second ahead of Cancellara, whilst Sky’s Tommy Lovkvist, eighth on the stage, is now third overall at nine seconds.
“We had lots of cards to play because there were five of us Saxo Banks ahead on the climb,” Schleck claimed – amongst them his brother Andy, finally 32nd on the stage, nineteen seconds back.
“I went for it just as I saw Martin sliding back a little. That last kilometre though, must have been one of the longest in my life.”
Whilst pleased to be in contention for the overall (he is now sixth, just 13 seconds behind Martin), Frank Schleck was cagey about his chances of taking the victory outright.
“My plan was to go for it on stage six, the most mountainous of all,” he said later. “As it is, I’ve won today, so we will discuss our options tonight.”
Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) was in the thick of the action for the first two thirds of the climb, a performance which contrasts strongly with his low-key ride in the opening prologue.
The American finally finished 15th on the stage, a reminder than he was a former Fleche Wallonne winner, and second in Liege-Bastogne-Liege too, long before he started racking up the first places in the Tour de France. It was a strong indication that Armstrong looks to be coming in form just in time for July.
Tour de Suisse 2010, stage three: Sierre – Schwarzenburg, 196.6km
1. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank in 5-02-21
2. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d’Epargne at same time
3. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank at 3sec
4. Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing Team
5. Matteo Carrara (Ita) Vacansoleil
6. Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Rabobank
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
8. Thomas Lovkvist (Swe) Team Sky
9. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r La Mondiale
10. Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Columbia at same time
113. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Columbia at 10-00
156. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Cervelo at 17-59
Overall classification after stage three
1. Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Columbia in 9-38-04
2. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank at 1sec
3. Thomas Lovkvist (Swe) Team Sky at 9sec
4. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d’Epargne at 10sec
5. Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick Step at 11sec
6. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 13sec
7. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Saxo Bank at 14sec
8. Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing Team at 14sec
9. Jonathan Castroviejo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 15sec
10. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank at 17sec
113. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Columbia at 14-16
149. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Cervelo at 25-24
Tony Martin takes the race lead