Simon Spilak (Katusha-Alpecin) put in a dominant performance on the final climb of stage seven of the Tour de Suisse to take victory on the day and move into the overall lead.
Spilak went solo with 10km to go on the brutal final climb to Tiefenbachferner, and was able to set a strong tempo to hold on to the finish line at more than 2,7000m in altitude.
The Slovenian rider paced his effort well, finishing 22 seconds ahead of Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida), moving into the race lead after the yellow jersey of Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) was dropped early on the climb.
How it happened
After a number of attacks, a large 18-rider breakaway group escaped on the road out of Zernez including Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Given the large number of riders in the group, they were never allowed more than four minutes, meaning that Sagan was able to pick up points at the intermediate sprints, but wasn’t enough to see them contest the stage finish.
The stage all came down to the final climb from Sölden to the summit finish at the Tiefenbach glacier, with the break caught early on the climb.
From there it was all about the GC contenders, with Bahrain-Merida and Katusha-Alpecin setting a fast pace that was enough to drop Matthias Frank (Ag2r La Mondiale) – fifth at the start of the day and the best-placed Swiss rider – dropped with 15km still to ride.
The next victim of the pace was Frank’s team-mate, race leader Domenico Pozzovivo, who lasted just a couple of kilometres more as Rein Taaramae (Katusha-Alpecin) continued to set a punishing tempo for team-mate Simon Spilak.
With 10km to go more riders were dropped by Taaramae, with Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida), and Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing) going backwards as only Taaramae, Simon Spilak and Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Drapac) remained at the front of the race.
Within a kilometre and the gap was out to nearly half a minute, at which point Taaramae dropped off to leave Spilak to go on alone, raising the pace himself to drop Dombrowski and go solo with eight kilometres still to ride.
From there the climb was so hard that riders just had to stick to their individual paces, most staring at their power meters as they suffered on the steep gradients.
Spilak was suffering as much as anyone, but was still extending his lead over a chasing duo of Dombrowski and the rejuvenated Izagirre.
With two kilometres remaining Izagirre left Dombrowski to set off in pursuit of Spilak, who began to look nervously over his shoulder as he made his way through a long, straight tunnel cut through the mountain.
Under the flamme rouge and the Spaniard was within 25 seconds, but as the gradient dropped off and the road started to descend in the final 500m, Spilak was able to zip up his jersey and lift his arms in celebration as he crossed the line.
Tour de Suisse 2017, stage seven: Zernez to Sölden (160.8km)
1. Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha-Alpecin, in 3-58-36
2. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 22 secs
3. Joe Dombrowski (USA) Cannondale-Drapac, at 36 secs
4. Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing, at 1-04
5. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNl-Jumbo, at same time
6. Jan Hirt (Cze) CCC Sprandi Polkowice, at 1-07
7. Rein Taaramäe (Est) Katusha-Alpecin, at 1-33
8. Mikel Nieve (Eso) Team Sky, at 1-47
9. Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates, at 1-53
10. Pello Bilboa (Esp) Astana, at 2-40
1. Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha-Alpecin, in 26-02-16
2. Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing, at 52 secs
3. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNl-Jumbo, at 1-05
4. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 2-28
5. Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates, at 2-35
6. Mathias Frank (Sui) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 2-51
7. Mikel Nieve (Esp) Team Sky, at 2-54
8. Jon Izzagirre (Esp) Movistar, at 3-51
9. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar, at 4-07
10. Pello Bilboa Lopez (Spa) Astana, at 4-10