SÖRENBERG, Switzerland (VN) — Rui Costa (Movistar) won the Tour de Suisse on Sunday as Tanel Kangert (Astana) collected the ninth and final stage in a two-up sprint with Jérémy Roy (FDJ-Big Mat).
Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) did his best to steal the leader’s jersey from Costa, attacking on the beyond-category Glaubenberg. But he couldn’t make it stick, and in the end the GC favorites considered the race settled and left the final battles to others.
“I went through a bad day yesterday, due to the efforts from the time trial on Friday, and I didn’t know how I was going to feel today,” said Costa.
But after the first climb, he said he had good legs “and that made me confident.”
“I didn’t become nervous, either, when Schleck attacked, because I knew he was doing really strong uphill and it’d have been crazy to go for him,” Costa added. “I knew that the flat between the two climbs was good for us to reel him back, and that’s what we did.”
The finale, a 215.8km leg from Näfels-Lintharena to the category-2 summit of Sörenberg, saw a break containing Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing Team), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r La Mondiale), Kangert and Roy get away about 40km into the day’s labors. The quartet built a lead of more than 10 minutes by the summit of the beyond-category Glaubenbielen.
With 60km remaining the break had 11:30 on the bunch, led by Movistar and RadioShack-Nissan. Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was in some difficulty on the descent of the Glaubenbielen and two teammates dropped back to pace him back up for some mechanical assistance from the team car as the peloton approached the second beyond-category climb of the day, the Glaubenberg.
“Today I wasn’t good as yesterday.” Leipheimer said. “The most I could do was to defend third place. The team helped me a lot and I want to thank them. The big Belgian guys did the job in the beginning and the others in the final. Today it was impossible to attack because Valverde and Costa were stronger then yesterday.”
Laurent Didier (RadioShack) slid out in a corner but was quickly back up and riding. Ahead, teammates Marzio Bruseghin and Linus Gerdemann took the front of the bunch and set the pace.
With 45km to go the yellow-jersey group had trimmed the break’s advantage to less than eight minutes and the Glaubenberg was taking a toll; Jakob Fuglsang (RadioShack), Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) and Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank) all slipped backward. Bookwalter was suffering, too, drifting off the back of the break.
And then Schleck attacked. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) quickly seized his wheel. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Barracuda) tried to do likewise, but couldn’t match the others’ pace.
Nieve, too, lost the wheel. And then Danielson settled into a rhythm and began to close on Schleck, who accelerated once more and rebuilt his gap. The three-man break was still 5:25 up the road with 43km to go.
Behind Danielson was the yellow jersey, accompanied by his teammate Alejandro Valverde, Leipheimer, Nieve, Nicolas Roche (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank), who dragged the group along up the Glaubenberg.
The break was 3:25 up the road as Schleck summited and began the descent. Danielson was 26 seconds back, with the yellow-jersey group nearly a minute in arrears.
The Costa group was closing on Danielson with 28km remaining, augmented by the arrival of Gesink teammate Steven Kruijswijk, but Schleck remained well ahead, the virtual yellow jersey on the road.
With Danielson swept up, the swelling yellow-jersey group set its sights on Schleck, who was starting to look over his shoulder, his margin down to 20 seconds with as many kilometers to race.
One more glance behind, a shrug of the shoulders and just like that, the Costa group swallowed him up. The category-2 climb to Sörenberg would decide the GC.
“A perfect scenario would have been to have another rider go with me, but it was just me on my own,” said Schleck. “I realized at one point I wasn’t going to succeed, of course, but I was still proud of my effort and proud of my team.”
A brief truce was declared and some negotiations between Costa and Schleck held before Sorensen — who had rejoined on the descent —attacked 16km from the finish. The Saxo Bank rider quickly took a sizable gap, and no one seemed inclined to chase.
Then Kruijswijk, Mathias Frank (BMC) and Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) followed, and still the Costa group remained unmoved.
With 10km to race the yellow-jersey group remained more than four minutes behind the break, with Sorensen second on the road and the Kruijswijk group third. Then Valverde took the helm of the chase with Bauke Mollema and Gesink on his wheel.
The Kruijswijk group swept up Sorensen but the break remained at large, more than three and a half minutes ahead. The Rabobank rider began the day in eighth overall, 1:01 down on Costa, and with half that in hand already he was threatening to push the Movistar rider and Schleck down the podium.
Five kilometers from the finish Valverde was still driving the yellow-jersey group. The break was of no concern — one of the three was certain to win the stage — but who would win the tour was still up for grabs.
Then Roy attacked, Kangert followed and Montaguti popped. Behind, Valverde finally pulled off and left Costa to defend his lead alone. The Kruijswijk group remained sandwiched between the two.
The leaders hit the red kite marking 1km to go. Roy led out the sprint, but Kangert came around for the win and Montaguti followed in third. Behind, the Costa group shut down the Kruijswijk threat at the line and the Movistar rider’s jersey was confirmed.
Schleck remained second overall at 14 seconds with Leipheimer third at 21 seconds.
“I think we can be very satisfied,” said Schleck. “I have no regrets. I know I gave it everything I had to try to win it.
“We only had one option today and we played it. It was the only point in the race where we had a chance to win it, so I was all in.”
Costa praised Valverde for his help in the finale, saying: “I owe this yellow jersey to him. He’s a great champion, a great teammate and friend, and he showed those values today.”
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from the finale to the Tour de Suisse.