Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) won the final stage and the overall title at the Tour de Suisse on Sunday.
It was the third consecutive victory here for the world road champion, who escaped a break of rivals for Tony Martin’s yellow jersey to take it all in the final stage, a 157km leg from Martigny to Saas-Fee with four climbs, one category 2, two category 1s and the final beyond-category ascent to Saas-Fee.
Bauke Mollema (Belkin) took second on the day as Matthias Frank (IAM Cycling) got a final corner wrong and dropped his chain, recovering in time to finish third.
“What a wonderful day: stage and overall classification victory. I could not have asked for a better finish,” said Costa. “No one had ever won Tour de Suisse three times in a row. I’m proud I’m the first one to do it and I think it’s even a bigger satisfaction having done it wearing the rainbow jersey.”
As for Martin, he fought valiantly to hold the yellow jersey he took in the stage-1 time trial. But in the end, the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider wouldn’t hit the line until more than two minutes later, losing the race he’d led from day one on the final stage.
“I was strong enough to maybe win this year,” Martin said. “But at the end, it was difficult when cooperation within the chase group wasn’t there and we had a team here focused on the stages and the sprints.
“But, okay, that’s it. I think the work I did for the race, I need to be happy. I just need to try again at the next race if there is a chance to fight again for the GC. That’s sport and that’s cycling.”
The big break
A break of some 16 riders got out front early, with Steve Morabito (BMC Racing) best overall at 3:05 behind Martin.
Costa, best Swiss rider Frank, and Mollema attacked the GC group with 46km to go, on the category-1 Eischoll.
All three were danger men at around a minute behind Martin, and they had help up the road in the break, while Martin was without teammates in the chase, Omega Pharma having brought a team of sprinters to the Swiss tour. Second-placed Ton Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) likewise found himself in a spot, having missed the move.
“We made a plan to make the race tough to drop Martin,” Mollema said. “The plan worked out perfectly.”
Approaching the final climb, some 20km long, the chase sputtered a bit before reorganizing itself. But by then there was a nine-man lead group more than two minutes up the road, and Costa — sitting third overall, just 1:05 down on Martin at the start of the day — was the virtual yellow jersey.
Frank sat fourth overall at 1:14 with Mollema fifth at 1:41, so the finishing order was by no means settled.
On the final climb Dumoulin came forward briefly to help Martin defend their respective podium positions, a pair of Lampres parked on their wheels. But the race leader and world time trial champion had to handle most of the pursuit himself.
With 12km remaining the lead group had shed Sander Armee (Lotto-Belisol) and was down to eight men. Behind, Martin had closed the gap slightly, to 1:38. But as the finish approached the gap went back out, and with 9km remaining Martin was 2:13 down and looking to slip off the podium entirely as Marcel Wyss (IAM) set a torrid pace for the break.
The attacks began then. Eros Capecchi (Movistar) jumped away, marked by Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo). Martin stayed in contact, though the injection of pace saw others lose the wheel. All the activity saw the break lose some time once again, and with 6km remaining the leaders had just 90 seconds on the yellow jersey group led once again by Martin.
Frank makes his move
Wyss finally pulled off with 3.5km to go and Frank lit it up. Mollema and Costa marked him, and Wyss went again. Costa was first to reach him, then Mollema. As the Belkin rider caught the wheel Costa came forward and accelerated, shedding first Mollema, then Frank.
Costa was alone with 2km to go, out to win the stage and the overall in one stroke. Mollema and Frank were battling for second and third, while Martin and Dumoulin were seeing their podium hopes slip away.
The world champ hit the red kite alone as behind, Mollema led Frank toward the line. And that was the way they’d finish the day, though Frank would have the better of Mollema on the overall.
When the final times were tallied Costa had the victory by 33 seconds over Frank with Mollema third at 50 seconds. Martin slipped off the podium entirely, finishing fourth overall at 1:13.
“When my main contenders went today on the climb, they were full gas. I couldn’t follow directly or close the gap,” said Martin. “I tried to play poker a bit to see if teams would support the chase for their contenders. It didn’t work out that way.
“But I still did my best to fight kilometer by kilometer and I have to be satisfied with what I could do today. As for my team, they did their best all week. It’s no secret we’re not here with the best mountain team. They gave everything. I rode all week in yellow, the team rode for me all week, we won four stages here. I think we can look at the results and, despite finishing fourth after all that work, be proud. The whole team did the maximum this week and I have to thank my teammates for doing all they could for me.”