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By Andrew Hood
Daniele Nardello (Telekom) held off a late charge by Jan Ullrich (Bianchi) with just 2km to go in Sunday’s eighth round of the World Cup series to win the 236.6km Championship of Zurich.
Nardello jumped away from a lead group of 18 riders with 9km to go in the closing flat along Lake Zurich while the lead group sent off dozens of unsuccessful counterattacks in a cat-and-mouse game that favored the Italian.
Ullrich punched the accelerator with just under 2km to go, but it was too late. Nardello won in five hours, 55 minutes and 30 seconds with an average speed of 39.932 kph to deliver his first victory since joining Telekom this season.
Ullrich settled for second for the fourth time at Zurich’s World Cup, but seemed content enough to pump his fist as he crossed the line in his newly adopted home country.
Quick Step’s Paolo Bettini finished third in the bunch sprint to widen his World Cup lead with just two rounds remaining. Bettini started the day with 300 points with victories at Milan-San Remo and back-to-back wins at HEW Cyclassics and Clasica Sebastian.
Despite having Quick Step teammates Richard Virenque and Patrick Sinkewitz, Bettini was content to let the others make the race.
With Ullrich chasing off the front, Bettini easily held off Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) in the sprint to widen his World Cup lead to 350 points. Boogerd moved into second overall with 204 points while Lotto-Domo’s Peter Van Petegem did not finish and fell to third with 203 points.
The hilly circuit course opened with a 71km loop and then four 41km laps. Each lap included an ascent of the 672-meter Forch climb (at just over 10km into each lap) and the steeper 729-meter Pfannenstiel climb (at 17km to go in each lap).
It was a beautiful, summer day with temperatures in the high 80s. Good crowds turned out to watch the 90th anniversary of the important Swiss race.
Early in the race, four riders – Eddy Ratti (Lampre), Martin Elmiger (Phonak), Laurent Lefevre (Jean Delatour) and Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) – built up a lead that topped 10 minutes after the second lap.
Ratti and Wegmann were gobbled up by the peloton on the third pass at Pfannenstiel, when Fassa Bortolo’s Gorazd Stangelj bridged out to Elmiger and Lefevre, but all three were reeled in coming through Zurich and the beginning of the final lap.
U.S. Postal’s George Hincapie attacked twice in the late going, including a move coming up the Forch climb on the final lap. Nardello and Ullrich were quick to mark the move, and Hincapie lost contact when Rabobank’s Michael Rasmussen set a punishing pace over the Pfannenstiel that broke up the remaining 60 or so riders in the lead group.
Rasmussen was a main protagonist at last week’s Clasica San Sebastian and once again helped Rabobank captain Boogerd. Rasmussen’s acceleration trimmed the lead down to about 30 riders coming over the Pfannenstiel, when he held a 14-second gap over Domina Vacanze’s Michele Scarponi.
Rasmussen, a former world mountain bike champion, was caught coming up the short but steep Wetzwil climb with just 11km to go when Boogerd, Francesco Casagrande (Lampre), Ivan Basso (Fassa Bortolo) and Nardello shot across.
Bettini’s Quick Step riders were giving a hard chase to keep Boogerd from slipping away too far, while Bianchi was working for Ullrich. The lead group of 18 riders had just come together when Nardello made his move. Rasmussen tried to follow, but didn’t have the legs.
Nardello, a hard-working Italian who turned pro with Mapei in 1994, put his head down and hammered for all he was worth. The lead group took turns attacking each other, with Cofidis’ David Moncoutie and Alessio’s Cristian Moreni trying to get away with 5km to go.
Ullrich was a marked man over the finale as the group followed his every attempt. Finally, with Nardello maintaining a 15-second gap on the chasers, Ullrich punched the accelerator with just under 2km to go.
Nobody could follow Big Jan this time, but it was too late for the victory. Nardello scored his first World Cup victory six seconds clear of Ullrich. Bettini came through for third at 11 seconds back.
The World Cup takes a back seat to September’s Vuelta a España before the final two stops in the 10-round series. Paris-Tours is next on Oct. 5 while the season closer is the Tour of Lombardy on Oct. 18.