Peter Sagan of Liquigas Cannondale this afternoon took his second stage of this year's Tour de Suisse, passing Team Sky's Ben Swift with the line in sight. The Briton finished third, with Matt Goss of HTC-Highroad also overtaking him on the approach to the finish in Schaffhausen.
The peloton had been split going over last but one climb around 20km out, leaving just 30 or so riders to contest the finale. Safely in that group was race leader Damiano Cunego, but missing out were Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel, and the former team mates' long-awaited showdown must now wait until the Tour de France. The race concludes with an individual time trial tomorrow.
Today was the third and last chance for a sprint finish in this year’s race. The previous two on Stages 4 and 5, featured tough uphill stretches in the finale, and respectively went to strong finishers Thor Hushovd and Borut Bozic, who were each among a handful of riders to get just ahead of the bunch as the line approached on both days.
Despite this afternoon's parcours featuring two climbs within the closing 25km, the Category 3 Hallauerberg and Category 4 Siblingerhöhe, the final 10km to the finish, a couple of uphill kicks apart, were as level as it gets in this part of the world and the stage seemed set for the big sprinters to fight it with an earlier four-man breakaway doomed to failure.
As the race approached the final 20km, however, Movistar, working for Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil, pushed the pace at the front of the peloton, causing the split that saw a large escape group form including riders from Leopard Trek and Garmin Cervelo, who sensed an opportunity to shake up the general classification with the likes of Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema, second overall, missing the break.
With 3.5km left to ride to the finish in Shaffhausen, the breakaway still had an advantage of 30 seconds as the riders headed over some bumpy terrain, with the rain starting to come down and a series of 90-degree bends also complicating matters for the chasing group, who proved unable to bring back the gap.
Cavendish was among those to miss out, and while at the age of 26 the Manxman can hardly be descried as a veteran, it was three of the next generation of emerging riders who ended up contesting the finale.
Coming off a roundabout into the finishing straight, Swift, winner of five races this year including a stage of the Tour of Romandie here in Switzerland, attacked first. The 23-year-old, however, possibly went just too early, and while Goss followed Sagan in passing the Team Sky rider, the Australian, aged 24 and heir-apparent to Cavendish at HTC-Highroad should the latter join Team Sky, never looked like catching the Slovakian.
At just 21 years of age, Sagan is the youngest of the trio, but perhaps the most exciting young prospect in cycling today. Last year, he won two stages and the points classification in Paris-Nice, and this year successfully defended his points jersey in the Tour of California. In winning today's Tour de Suisse stage, he only needs to complete tomorrow's 32.1km time trial around Schaffhausen to confirm victory in the points classification in this race, too.
Speaking about the stage afterwards Ben Swift said on his website, www.benswiftcycling.com:
"I have been feeling better and better each day of the race, finally getting back into the race rhythm. I was happy with the legs up the climb today as I had to put in a bit of an effort to get into that front group, as I made a mistake by starting a little too far back.
"But I had good legs so I could make it across. Unfortunately I opened up my sprint just too early, with the finish being slightly up hill with a slight head wind. I'm happy with how the day went and how the legs felt."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.