American Levi Leipheimer snatched overall victory from Damiano Cunego in the Tour of Switzerland Sunday to leave the Italian in second place by only four seconds.
Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara closed his home race the way he opened it, winning the ninth stage’s 32.1 km time trial around Schaffhausen to claim his second stage win after his opening time trial victory in Lugano.
However the biggest shock of the day was Lampre all-rounder Cunego losing the yellow jersey by the third smallest margin in the race’s history.
Former Giro d’Italia champion Cunego went into the final stage with a 1 minute, 59 seconds lead over RadioShack’s Leipheimer and knowing full well he was under pressure.
And his worst fears were confirmed when Leipheimer put in a powerful display around Switzerland’s northern-most town to finish third only four seconds behind teammate Andreas Klöden and 13secs behind world champion Cancellara.
“I’m really sorry I lost but that’s sport, you have to learn to lose before you can enjoy victory,” said Cunego, who took command of the race with a superb solo display of climbing on stage three.
“When I went out this morning to reconnoiter the course I was really disappointed. Although hilly there were a lot of long, straight stretches and that just didn’t play to my strengths.
“Thinking back on my performance, I think it’s a miracle I finished second.”
In total, RadioShack had three riders in the stage’s top ten with Portuguese Nelson Oliveria finishing fourth at 25secs behind Cancellara.
Cunego said in recent days Leipheimer was his biggest concern, and he was proved right.
Cunego passed the second time check, at 22.9km, still with a 33-second lead on Leipheimer in the provisional overall standings.
However he went on to finish 2:16 off Cancellara’s pace, handing Leipheimer the win by just four seconds. In 2004, Germany’s Jan Ullrich beat Swiss Fabian Jeker by just a second to secure the title. And in 1987, Andy Hampsten won his second consecutive Swiss title, also by one second.
Leipheimer, who kept himself hidden but in contention most of the week, said his sporting director’s advice in the finale may have been decisive.
“I didn’t know how close it was at the end,” the American, who had started fourth from last in the 140-stong field, said at the finish line.
“All I heard was my director shouting at me to sprint for the finish at the end. I think that might have made the difference.”
Leipheimer, who refused to attend a post-race press conference, added: “I had good days and bad days this week. It was a very hard Tour of Switzerland.”
In third place overall was 24-year-old Dutch tyro Steven Kruijswijk of Rabobank, who finished 1:02 behind Leipheimer in the overall standings. Defending champion Frank Schleck of Leopard finished seventh overall at 2:35.
“I came to win a stage but after the first few days I felt my legs were good so I’m happy I could finish high up,” said Kruijswijk, who claimed his first professional win on the mountainous sixth stage to Malbun in Liechtenstein.
Cancellara was virtually untouchable, with only specialists like Klöden and Leipheimer getting close to upstaging the record four-time world and Olympic champion.
“What can I say? It’s a time trial, I gave it 100 percent as I usually do and I won,” said Cancellara.
“To start and finish the race the way I have done, with two victories, makes it a perfect Tour of Switzerland for me.”
- 1. Fabian Cancellara (SUI), Leopard-Trek , 41:01
- 2. Andreas Klöden (GER), Team RadioShack, at 0:09
- 3. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Team RadioShack, at 0:13
- 4. Nelson Oliveira (POR), Team RadioShack, at 0:25
- 5. Thomas Danielson (USA), Garmin-Cervelo, at 0:38
- 1. Levi Leipheimer (United States), Team RadioShack , 31:45:02
- 2. Damiano Cunego (Italy), Lampre-Isd, at 0:04
- 3. Steven Kruijswijk (Netherlands), Rabobank Cycling Team, at 1:02
- 4. Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark), Leopard-Trek, at 1:10
- 5. Bauke Mollema (Netherlands), Rabobank Cycling Team, at 2:05