Rabobank’s Robert Hunter continued his promising run up to Tour de France form by winning the fifth stage of the Tour of Switzerland as it finished in Adelboden Wednesday.
T-Mobile team leader Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour de France winner, retained the overall lead of the race that ends on Sunday.
Hunter was part of a three-man break that dominated the day’s action in the 162-kilometer stage from Bätterkinden to Adelboden. Hunter, a winner in stage 3, joined Michael Blaudzun (CSC) and Murilo Fischer (Domina Vacanze) in an attack about 50 kilometers into the rolling stage that ended with a short but steep climb.
Only when the trio built up a lead topping 10 minutes did the peloton come out of its slumber. T-Mobile did enough work to trim the lead to about seven minutes when Hunter attacked his fellow escapees with about 4km to go the gently climbing finish to snatch victory.
Ullrich easily followed the favorites to retain the overall lead going into Thursday’s 185.4km stage from Frutigen to Linthal that hits two “beyond category” climbs, with the final summit coming about 25 kilometers from the finish.
On Wednesday Hunter took advantage to attack after just 33km of riding, and was soon joined by CSC’s Blaudzun and Domina Vacanze rider Fischer. Together they went on to build a lead of over 10 minutes as the climb to Adelboden approached.
Their pursuers, led by the Quick Step team of Italy’s reigning World Cup champion Paolo Bettini, began their chase far too late and arrived at the finish over four minutes adrift of Hunter.
The 27-year-old South African, who seems to have flourished since joining the Dutch outfit from Lampre a little over a year-and-a-half ago, is also flourishing on the steep ascents here. But Hunter said his climbing prowess should not come as a surprise.
“Just before my move to the professional ranks I was a complete rider,” said Hunter. “But when you make the step up you have to work for the good of the team and forget about your own ambitions.”
Defending Tour of Switzerland champion Vinokourov crashed out of the race on Sunday with a shoulder injury and is now forfeit for the Tour de France (July 3-25), where he came third overall last year.American Bobby Julich (CSC) remains well-positioned, sitting sixth overall at 24 seconds back.68th Tour de Suisse (SWI 2.HC)
Stage 5, Bätterkinden to Adelboden
1. Robert Hunter (SA), Rabobank 162km in 3 hours, 45 minutes, 16 seconds
2. Murilo Fischer (Bra), Domina Vacanze, at 0:35
3. Michael Blaudzun (Den), Team CSC +0:37
4. Kim Kirchen (Swi), Fassa Bortolo +4:30
5. Fabian Jeker (Swi), Saunier Duval s.t.Others
8. Bobby Julich (USA), CSC s.t.
41. Tom Danielson (USA), Fassa Bortolo +4:56 Overall standings after five stages
1. Jan Ullrich (Ger), T-Mobile 20 hours, 43 minutes, 25 seconds
2. Oscar Camenzind (Swi), Phonak +0:02
3. Fabian Jeker (Swi), Saunier Duval +0:06
4. Steve Zampieri (Swi), Vini Caldirola +0:07
5. David Canada (Spa), Saunier Duval +0:08Others
6. Bobby Julich (USA) +0:24
42. Tom Danielson (USA), Fassa Bortolo +19:11