By Andrew Hood
Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) pulled off a one-second triumph in the 68th Tour de Suisse over a bitterly disappointed Fabian Jeker (Saunier Duval) after winning Sunday’s 25.6km race against the clock along the lakeshore at Lugano.
Ullrich, who’s using the Swiss tour to fine-tune his form going into next month’s Tour de France, edged time-trial specialist Laszlo Bodrogi (Quick Step) by eight seconds to win the stage.
Then all eyes were on the clock. Jeker, who began with a 41-second head start on Ullrich, quickly lost 26 seconds in the opening section, but seemed to be just hanging on to his overall lead as he found his rhythm in the closing section.
Jeker even pumped his fist after crossing the line, apparently believing he had secured the overall title. Instead, the veteran Swiss rider takes a bitter second place to Ullrich. Bodrogi finished second at eight seconds slower, while Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) stopped the clock 11 ticks slower.
After winning the prologue, Ullrich held the lead until Friday’s seventh stage, when Jeker snatched the overall title. Ullrich saved his best for last, but didn’t seem to dominate in the race against the clock as expected.
Rounding out the top three was former mountain biker Dario Cioni (Fassa Bortolo), who bounced ahead of Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) to claim the final step on the podium.
“I am very satisfied with this podium, my first in an important stage race,” said Cioni, who finished fourth overall at the Giro d’Italia. “I think I’ve been the only racer who’s been strong the past two months. Next I will race in the Italian time trial national championships and I hope to do well.”
Next month, the German takes on five-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal Service), hoping to become only the third rider to follow up victory in the Swiss tour with a win in the Tour de France, as Eddy Merckx did in 1974 and Armstrong in 2001.
American Tom Danielson (Fassa Bortolo) abandoned during the mountain stages while Bobby Julich (CSC) rebounded nicely after struggling through the mountains to finish fifth Sunday at 40 seconds back. Julich, who entered the Swiss tour with hopes of a podium finish, but faded on the steep mountains Thursday and Friday, finished 13th at 6:30 back.
68th Tour de Suisse (SWI 2.HC)
Stage 9, Lugano-Lugano (ITT), 25.6km
1. Jan Ullrich (Ger), T-Mobile, 31:36 (48.594 kph)
2. Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun), Quick Step, at 0:08
3. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), Fassa Bortolo, at 0:11
4. Evgeni Petrov (Rus), Saeco, at 0:23
5. Bobby Julich (USA), Team CSC, at 0:40
6. Fabian Jeker (Swi), Saunier Duval, at 0:42
Final overall standings
1. Jan Ullrich (Ger), T-Mobile 34:19:25
2. Fabian Jeker (Swi), Saunier Duval, at 0:01
3. Dario Cioni (Ita), Fassa Bortolo, at 1:20
4. Georg Totschnig (Aut), Gerolsteiner, at 1:26
5. Jose Mario Del Olmo (Spa), Milaneza Maia, at 2:14
13. Bobby Julich (USA), Team CSC, at 6:30
‘Perdi’ wraps Cataluyna
Spanish sprinter Isaac Galvez (Illes Balears-Banesto) got revenge for his relegation in Friday’s stage by taking victory in Sunday’s finale of the Volta a Cataluyna.
Galvez took the sprint ahead of Mirco Lorenzetto (De Nardi) and Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner), who came across third. The final 132.8km stage hit a hilly course between Olesa de Montserrat and Barcelona, but came down to a bunch sprint with Saunier Duval intent on keeping a lid on things.
VeloNews columnist Michael Barry (U.S. Postal Service) featured nicely in the day’s major break, joining five riders who slipped away over the first of three passes on the Alto de Vacarisses. Joining the Canadian were Rene Andrle (Liberty Seguros), Moises Dueñas (Relax-Bodysol), Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Pablo Lastras (Illes Balears-Banesto) and Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque).
The break had a gap of 3:10 midway through the stage, which made Lastras the virtual leader, forcing Saunier Duval to up the pace in the chase. Giving help were Gerolsteiner, Acqua & Sapone and De Nardi and the last of the break was reeled in the final kilometers to set up the sprint.
Taking the overall prize was surprise winner Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Saunier Duval), a 31-year-old known more for his scrappy sprint than challenging for stage races.
But the Madrid-based racer won three stages, including a climbing time trial to Arcalis high in the Andorran Pyrenees when he grabbed the overall lead from Russian Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears-Banesto), who hung on to finish second. Taking third was Euskaltel-Euskadi veteran Roberto Laiseka.
“My performance in the Volta is my best entry card to gain a spot for the Athens Olympics,” Perdiguero said. “This has been the most important victory of my career.”
Mourey pips Millar in Route du Sud
World time trial champion David Millar (Cofidis) lost out to Francis Mourey (FDJeux.com) in Sunday’s second stage of the 68th Route du Sud while Italian Cristian Moreni (Alessio) retained the overall lead.
Mourey, Millar and Russian rider Alexandre Botcharov (Credit Agricole) pulled away midway thorugh the 136.6km stage from Les, Spain to St. Gaudens back into France. After opening up a gap of more than four minutes, the main bunch came to life and trimmed the lead down to just over one minute coming in for the sprint.
The race continues Monday with the 23.5km individual time trial from Loures-Barousse to Sarp.
68th Route du Sud (FRA 2.3)
Stage 2, Les, Spain to St. Gaudens, 136.6km
1. Francis Mourey (Fra), FDJeux.com, 3:02:43
2. David Millar (GBr), Cofidis, same time
3. Alexandre Botcharov (Rus), Credit Agricole, at 0:03
4. Baden Cooke (Aus), FDJeux.com, at 1:03
5. Janek Tombak (Est), Cofidis, s.t.
Freire to miss Tour
Two-time world champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) will miss the 2004 Tour de France after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst. According to Freire’s brother and agent, Rabobank team doctors removed the growth that had been bothering the Milan-San Remo winner for months. Doctors say he’ll be back on the bike in 10 days, plenty of time to recover for the post-Tour World Cup races and the Summer Games.
Nuyens takes Ster
Belgian rider Nico Eeckhout (Lotto-Domo) won the final stage of the Ster Elektrotoer race in Holland as part of a breakaway while Nick Nuyens (Quick Step) finished safely in the main bunch to sew up the overall title.