Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) won the third stage of the Tour de Suisse between Sierre and Schwarzenburg after attacking on the final metres of the climb to the finish line. In a stage whose closing stages resembled an Ardennes classic, the Luxemburger was followed home by Colombian Rigoberto Uran (Caisse d’Epargne) and Dutchman Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) after 196.6km.
“Fränk Schleck has been in great shape throughout the spring and now the results really start coming,” said Schleck’s director sportif Kim Anderson. “It was an amazing solo victory in a peloton loaded with strong riders getting ready for the Tour de France, and today's finale was very similar to the one he won in Tour de Luxembourg.”
The stage crossed the 1st category Col des Mosses, topping out at 1445m, but it was the short, steep climbs of the last 40km that were to prove decisive.
The break of the day was from Alexandre Pliuschin (Katusha), Jussi Veikkanen (Française des Jeux) and Ermanno Capelli (Footon-Servetto), who escaped after just 20km. The peloton was entirely disinterested in chasing the three fugitives and so as they passed through Aigle, location of the International Cycling Union (UCI), a little over 45km later, their lead was up to over 14 minutes.
Even on the climb the gap continued to grow and as Pliuschin led the trio over the top, the gap had grown to over 15 minutes with 112.2km remaining.
Finally, on the descent, the peloton decided to react and began to slowly pull the three riders back. With 80km to go their lead was reduced to 13 minutes, but with the trio working together it still stood at 11’22” with 70km to go. With the Saxo Bank team of race leader Fabian Cancellara leading the peloton though the gap fell sharply, and as they entered the final hilly 50km it was reduced to just 5 minutes.
With 37km to go the attacks began in the peloton, with Valeriy Dmitriyev (Astana) being the first to make a move; the peloton was having none of this though and quickly pulled him back but it set the tone for the rest of the stage. The Kazakh’s aggression also had the effect of increasing the pace further, so that as the three breakaway riders crossed the final intermediate sprint with 35.3km to go their lead was little more than 2 minutes.
With 31km to go Pliuschin decided that his companions could help him no longer and attacked. Veikkanen and Capelli were quickly absorbed by the peloton but the Moldovan managed to hang on until just after the 3rd category Kalchstätten with 24.6km to go, assuring himself the mountains jersey at the end of the stage.
The next attack came from Michael Albasini (HTC-Columbia) with 17km to go, but the Swiss rider was only able to get a few seconds clear and was caught 5km later. With 10km to go Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne) tried his luck and managed to get a dozen seconds clear. The Spaniard was caught by teammate Jose Rojas, Giampaolo Cheula (Footon-Servetto) Kim Kirchen (HTC-Columbia) and Martin Elmiger (AG2R-La Mondiale) with 5km to go. They were soon caught by the peloton but Cheula tried to go again with 4km to go; he too was caught though and the peloton approached the final 11% climb altogether.
An acceleration from Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) on behalf of teammate Tony Martin caused a group to split from the front of the peloton, including Lance Armstrong (RadioShack). An attack from Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale) into the final kilometre was countered by Schleck, who was in turn caught by Uran but managed to hold on to take the victory.
Cancellara managed to stay with a group that finished just 7 seconds behind his teammate but Martin, who started the day just 3 seconds behind the Swiss champion, takes over the yellow jersey.
Result stage 3 1. Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
2. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d’Epargne @ 1s
3. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank @ 3s
4. Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing Team
5. Matteo Carrara (Ita) Vacansoleil
6. Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Rabobank
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
8. Thomas Löfkvist (Swe) Team Sky
9. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R-La Mondiale
10. Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Columbia
Standings after stage 3 1. Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Columbia
2. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank @ 1s
3. Thomas Löfkvist (Swe) Team Sky @ 9s
4. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d’Epargne @ 10s
5. Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick Step @ 11s