Italian Damiano Cunego took another step towards overall victory in the Tour of Switzerland after the sixth stage won by Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk on Thursday. Rabobank rider Kruijswijk, who only started cycling at the age of 16, struck out for home with 2.5 km remaining in the 157.7 km ride beginning in Tobel-Tagerschen and which finished with a brutal 11km climb to Malbun.
A group of leaders containing only a few of the overall victory contenders had pulled away from the rest of the peloton halfway up the climb. And as that group dropped in numbers in the final few kilometers, Kruijswijk made the most of a counter-attack by Cunego after the Italian had been lured by the Dutchman’s teammate Bauke Mollema – to go off on his own. Despite efforts by American Levi Leipheimer and Cunego to close a small gap in the final kilometre, 24-year-old Kruijswijk soloed over the finish to claim what he called the biggest win of his career.
“It’s great for me but also the team. We spoke this morning about possible tactics and we played it to perfection,” said Kruijswijk. “First Mollema went, then Cunego and that’s when I attacked myself. I knew I had to maintain a good rhythm but I also knew the other guys behind me were suffering.”
While Rabobank young guns Mollema and Kruijswijk come to the race in form after competing at the Giro d’Italia, where the latter finished ninth overall, some bigger name riders are still finding theirs. However few expected two-time Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck to be dropped only a few kilometers into the climb, the Luxemburger failing to follow a pace which, ironically, was being set by his Leopard teammates. He complained of having bad legs, and took his time finishing eventually trailing home 14:15 behind Kruijswijk.
Older brother Frank, the defending champion, only began trailing shortly before Kruijswijk’s attack, eventually losing 16secs to Cunego on the day to finish 1:41 behind the Italian. With another day of climbing and a final stage time trial on Sunday, Schleck, in fourth behind second placed Mollema and Kruijswijk, in third, is still in contention. However Cunego says his biggest rival is now RadioShack all rounder Leipheimer, fifth at 1:59 and easily the best time triallist in the top 10.
“Leipheimer has had a fairly quiet race all week but he is my most dangerous rival,” said Cunego. “He is a strong time triallist so if I have good legs then I know I will probably have to attack him on the final climb up to Serfaus (Friday) to widen the gap.”
The podium hopes of Tejay Van Garderen meanwhile suffered a blow when the HTC-Highroad all rounder came over the finish 2:15 adrift to drop to 10th overall at over three minutes off the pace. After six hard days of riding, Italian Danilo Di Luca of Katusha also fell off the pace trailing home 2:21 behind to fall to 11th overall at 4:00. Earlier, former race leader Juan Mauricio Soler was airlifted to hospital suffering from head injuries and a broken ankle following a crash after just 10 km.
Soler, second overall at 54-seconds overnight, had been hoping to secure a place on Movistar’s team for the Tour de France, on which he won a stage and the ‘King of the Mountains’ polka dot jersey in 2007.
Tour de Suisse Stage 6
1. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/RAB) 4:12:03
2. Levi Leipheimer (USA/RSH) @ .09
3. Damiano Cunego (ITA/LAM) @ .18
4. Bauke Mollema (NED/RAB) @ .21
5. Giampaolo Caruso (ITA/KAT) @ s.t.
6. Frank Schleck (LUX/LEO) @ .30
7. Mathias Frank (SUI/BMC) @ s.t.
8. Laurens Ten Dam (NED/RAB) @ 1:19
9. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/LEO) @ 1:27
10. Tom Danielson (USA/GRM) @ 1:42
General Classification After Stage 6
1. Damiano Cunego (ITA/LAM) 21:26:28
2. Bauke Mollema (NED/RAB) @ 1:23
3. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/RAB) @ 1:36
4. Frank Schleck (LUX/LEO) @ 1:41
5. Levi Leipheimer (USA/RSH) @ 1:59
6. Laurens Ten Dam (NED/RAB) @ 2:24
7. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/LEO) @ 2:45
8. Mathias Frank (SUI/BMC) @ 3:10
9. Giampaolo Caruso (ITA/KAT) @ 3:11
10. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/THR) @ 3:22