American Chris Horner (Davitamon-Lotto) attacked with perfect timing to win the second stage of the Tour de Romandie on Thursday and take the race leader’s yellow jersey from prologue winner Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel).
Horner completed the rainy, 171.2km stage beginning and ending in Porrentry in 4 hours, 16 minutes, 22 seconds. Germany’s Jörg Jaksche (Liberty Seguros), who claimed second place at four seconds back, beat out local favorite Alexandre Moos (Phonak), who finished third.
Spain’s Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears) crossed fourth, seven seconds off the pace, followed immediately by Savoldelli.
Savoldelli and Valverde are second and third in the overall standings.
Horner’s win was the second in as many days for the Davitamon-Lotto team after Aussie Robbie McEwen won the first stage.
The day’s action began when Swiss riders David Loosli (Lampre) and Roger Beuchat (LPR) attacked 17km into the stage. Just 3km later, the Swiss duo was leading by seven minutes.
French rider Christophe Moreau (Ag2r) soon launched a solo bid to catch the leaders and moved to within five minutes of them after they were forced to stop at a level crossing at the 59th kilometer. That also allowed the peloton to come within nine minutes of the leaders.
Moreau’s chase ended when he was caught by the pack with 40km to go and the peloton chipped away at the Swiss riders’ advantage on the final climb, cutting the margin to 43 seconds before finally catching the pair on the Col de la Croix.
With just 15km remaining, a small group including Horner, Valverde, Savoldelli, Moos, Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) and Alberto Contador (Liberty Seguros) separated themselves at the front and prepared for a sprint that never came as the American broke away in the closing kilometers.
“I had Cadel right next to me, so I had the tactical advantage on my side,” said Horner, who with McEwen brings his team a welcome double after a forgettable classics campaign largely dominated by their Belgian rivals Quick Step.
Evans, meanwhile, finished with the main peloton and sits seventh in the general classification with a good chance of contending the overall victory, which many expect will come down to a battle between Valverde and Savoldelli.
Horner admitted that both riders, who have been relatively quiet so far, could finally show their hand on Friday, another hilly 164.6km stage from Bienne to Leysin, or on Saturday’s even tougher climbing stage.
“They’ve hardly made a move so far,” he said. “But we’ll maybe see something from them in the final climbs on Friday or Saturday.”
Germany’s Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile), contesting his first race of the year after an inflamed right knee disrupted his pre-season training, was unable to keep up with the front group and dropped back 15km from the finish. The 1997 Tour de France champion finished with the main pack.
1. Chris Horner (USA), Davitamon-Lotto, 4:16:22
2. Jörg Jaksche (G), Liberty Seguros, at 0:04
3. Alexandre Moos (Swi), Phonak, same time
4. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears, at 0:08
5. Paolo Savoldelli (I), Discovery Channel, s.t.
1. Chris Horner (USA), Davitamon-Lotto, 8:31.11
2. Paolo Savoldelli (I), Discovery Channel, at 0:07
3. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears, same time
4. Alexandre Moos (Swi), Phonak, at 0:09
5. Jörg Jaksche (G), Liberty Seguros, at 0:11