By John Wilcockson
Lance Armstrong retained his lead at the Tour of Switzerland Wednesday, after German Erik Zabel of Telekom won the opening road stage, 178km from Europa Park (Rust) to Basel. In a mass sprint finish, Zabel outsped Italian Paolo Bettini of Mapei-Quick Step and Saulius Ruskys of Team Gerolsteiner to take his 15th win of the season. Armstrong — winner of Tuesday’s stage 1 time trial — retained his overall lead by just three seconds, after Paris-Roubaix winner Servais Knaven of Domo-Farm Frites picked up a pair of two-second time bonus.
The stage started in Rust, Germany, and passed through Jan Ullrich’s village of Merdingen after 42 km (Ullrich was absent, training with his Telekom teammates in the Alps). After a series of attacks, two riders went clear after 68km: Swiss Lukas Zumsteg of Phonak and Aussie Jason Phillips of Coast. They raced to a maximum lead of 7:07 just before crossing the border into Switzerland, and passed through the finish area prior to two laps of a 16km circuit only 2:13 clear. Zumsteg went ahead solo but was caught just after climbing the circuit’s only hill for the last time, 6km from the finish.
Telekom took over the front of the peloton, giving Zabel a perfect leadout, despite a countermove by Lampre-Daikin, whose South African Robert Hunter sprinted into fourth place.
Tomorrow’s stage 3 is a rolling 163km from Reinach to Baar, and could result in another win for the insatiable Zabel.
TOUR OF SWITZERLAND, Stage 2: Rust-Basel. June 20.
1. Erik Zabel (G), Telekom, 178km in 4:26:49 (40.207 kph)
2. Paolo Bettini (I), Mapei-Quick Step
3. Saulius Ruskys (Lit), Gerolsteiner
4. Robert Hunter (SA), Lampre-Daikin
5. Janek Tombak (Est), Cofidis
6. Robert Sassone (F), Cofidis
7. Peter Wrolich (A), Gerolsteiner
8. Jean-Patrick Nazon (F), La Française des Jeux
9. Arvis Piziks (Lat), CSC-World Online
10. René Haselbacher (A), Gerolsteiner, all s.t.
17. George Hincapie (USA), U.S. Postal Service
61. Lance Armstrong (USA), U.S. Postal Service
74. Tyler Hamilton (USA), U.S. Postal Service
1. Lance Armstrong (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 4:36:33
2. Servais Knaven (Nl), Domo-Farm Frites, at 0:03
3. Laurent Jalabert (F), CSC-World Online, at 0:05
4. Tyler Hamilton (USA), U.S. Postal Service
5. Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus), U.S. Postal Service, both s.t.
6. Beat Zberg (Swi), Rabobank, at 0:06
7. George Hincapie (USA), U.S. Postal Service, at 0:09
8. Grischa Niermann (G), Rabobank
9. Marc Wauters (B), Rabobank, both s.t.
10. Nicolas Jalabert (F), CSC-World Online, at 0:10