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Lucinda Brand shows climbing form with Tour de Suisse overall victory

Dutch rider stole lead from Kristen Faulkner with final stage win in last pre-Giro test.

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Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo) took overall victory at the Tour de Suisse on Tuesday, as the race came down to a final kilometer battle between Brand and Kristen Faulkner (BikeExchange-Jayco) after a varied four days of racing.

Starting the day, Brand was four seconds down on leader Faulkner, but emerged as the winner in Lenz after Faulkner slid out in the final bend atop the six-kilometer climb.

Brand’s overall victory was bookended by stage wins, as she also won the stage 1 circuit race in Vaduz. She took 50 seconds on the peloton on stage 1, but then finished a 1:07 down on Faulkner in stage 2’s time trial. The pair finished in the leading group behind winner Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) on stage 3, setting the overall up for a final day decider on stage 4.

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Stage 4 was the hardest day of this year’s Tour de Suisse, taking in two climbs and two long descents before a final six-kilometer climb to the finish in Lenz. The first climb to Wolfgangpass peaked out at the 55.5km completed mark, but the road was rising from as early at 16.5km into the stage, making for a long and hard first half of the stage.

As a result, there was little to speak of in terms of a breakaway as BikeExchange-Jayco and Canyon-SRAM controlled the peloton over the long ascent. Many of the pure climbers had lost time on the time trial, so the group of riders close enough to contend for the overall had shrunk to only Brand, Pauliena Rooijakkers (Canyon-SRAM), Faulkner, and her teammate Georgia Williams.

Over the top of the pass, a four-rider group got away, but they were soon reabsorbed by the peloton on the wet descent. It was the second, smaller climb with 23km to go that really lit up the race. Balsamo set the pace over the top of the ascent, allowing Brand to attack into the descent where she was joined by Olympic mountain bike champion and former teammate Jolanda Neff, racing for the Swiss national team.

Owing to their skills borrowed from cyclocross and mountain biking — and the fact that the race was on home roads for Neff — the pair attacked the descent in impressive fashion, pulling out a lead of 50 seconds over the peloton by the time they reached the bottom. When the road started rising, Brand soon distanced Neff, and her lead looked like she could take it all the way to the finish.

However, Faulkner and Rooijakkers were pressing on hard behind, and the advantage Brand had gained on the descent had been halved by the 4km to go mark. Wearing the yellow jersey and with the overall victory still possible, Faulkner began to distance Rooijakkers as she set off in pursuit of Brand as the rain poured on the final climb.

Faulkner made the catch at 1.2km to go, and instead of attacking Brand, the pair worked together going into the final kilometer. Having taken a bonus second at the intermediate sprint, this was an understandable approach from Faulkner: even if Brand, the better sprinter, won the stage, provided Faulkner finished on the same time, Brand would only take back four of the five seconds she needed to win the overall. Still together in the final 300m, this looked like how the race would pan out, but a tricky final bend tripped Faulkner up. Whilst Brand took the corner perfectly, the American slid out, coming off her bike and into the barriers as Brand sailed towards victory.

Faulkner got back on her bike and finished second, but the 15 seconds she had lost easily granted Brand the overall win. Rooijakkers finished fifth to keep hold of third overall. Faulkner comes away from the race with second overall and a stage win, so whilst she may be disappointed in the way the race was lost, there is plenty of confidence to be taken ahead of July’s stage racing.

Often billed as a punchy, classics rider, Brand’s general classification win in Switzerland was a testament to just how good of a climber the Dutch woman can be. After outperforming the likes of Rooijakkers, Évita Muzic (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Clara Koppenburg (Cofidis) the Dutch rider is looking strong ahead of the Giro Donne, a race she has won three stages of previously.

Though stage 4 was where the race was decided, her stage 1 victory was also a key part of Brand’s win. Taking in just 46km over a city circuit in Vaduz, the stage could well have come down to a bunch sprint — where Trek-Segafredo had a favorite in Elisa Balsamo — but Brand’s aggression and strength earnt her not only the stage win, but a crucial time advantage over most of her competitors, proving again how important aggression on every stage is.

Going into the Giro Donne, Brand will form part of a strong Trek-Segafredo team which also includes Balsamo and Elisa Longo Borghini. The team may not have a clear general classification rider, but with now back-to-back GC wins in the Women’s Tour and the Tour de Suisse, the team may not be far off the overall and have several cards to play on all different types of stages.