Frank Schleck (CSC) showed he is on form and ready for the Tour de France by wining stage four and taking the overall lead at the Tour of Switzerland on Tuesday.
The 27 year-old from Luxembourg attacked on the steep 10km climb to the finish in Triesenberg-Malbun in Liechtenstein and gained vital time on all his rivals for overall victory. Russia?s Vladimir Efimkin finished second, 32 seconds behind Schleck, with Spain?s Jose Angel Marchante third at 42 seconds. Schleck now leads Efimkin and compatriot Kim Kirchen in the overall standings by 49 seconds.
The tough finish showed who is and who isn?t on form with the start of the Tour de France in London just two and a half weeks away.
The big losers were Carlos Sastre (CSC) and Andreas Kloden (Astana) who both suffered on the climb and finished more than five minutes back, and Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) who finished four minutes down. Britain?s Roger Hammond finished 127th, 20-35 behind Schleck after working hard for the T-Mobile team early in the stage.
Thanks to his impressive ride Schleck set himself up for overall victory.
?This is my first win of the 2007 season and it?s very good for my moral coming just before the Tour de France,? he said.
?The final climb was tough but the whole stage went exactly to plan. My team mates set an excellent pace early on the stage to catch the early attackers and then I attacked partway up the final climb. I knew the gradient and so rode at my own pace. The long hard climbs suit my style and so I felt good all the way to the finish.?
Schleck took the race leader?s yellow jersey from his team mate Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland and had to face the ritual of serving desert to his team mates at dinner but made it clear he was the new race leader.
?Cancellara is in great shape and he showed it by defending his lead during yesterday tough stage but we always knew he?d struggle today. I have to thank him because he worked hard for me. He lead the race for three days after winning the opening time trial but now it?s my turn.?
Schleck will have to defend his lead in the mountains stages of the second half of the Tour of Switzerland but has the advantage of the final time trial stage in Bern on Sunday.
Wednesday?s 192.8km fifth stage is from Vaduz in Liechtenstein to Giubiasco, near the Italian border. The stage includes the climb of the Likemanierpass but the final 100km of the stage are downhill and flat, meaning the sprinters the favourites for stage victory.