Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) chose Friday’s mammoth stage seven of the Tour de Suisse to test his form in the mountains ahead of next month’s Tour de France.
Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) took a lone stage win after breaking free from an earlier 17-man escape group that contained some strong riders including Schleck, Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo), Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and George Hincapie (BMC Racing).
Schleck came home in second place, 35 seconds back on De Gendt having also ridden away from his fellow escapees, showing that his form is coming together after a torrid start to the race. Jose Rojas (Movistar) came in third at 48 seconds.
Schleck came away with the mountains jersey for his efforts on the day’s climbs.
The sizeable escape group managed to build up a seven-plus minute lead over Cunego’s group when they reached the hors categorie Flüelapass mid-stage, putting Cunego’s race lead – and team – under pressure. Rabobank also saw the danger to its three riders in the overall top ten and assisted Cunego’s Lampre squad in pegging back the break’s advantage.
On the final climb to Serfaus in Austria, the escape group’s gains were largely nullified and Cunego then sat in a compact group of overall rivals. Cunego was without team assistance and had to police attacks himself, which he managed with ease.
In the end it was job done for the Italian. He finished 17th and managed to lose no time to his close rivals to retain the overall lead. Cunego still lies 1-23 ahead of Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) overall and 1-36 in front of third-placed Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank).
Britain’s Chris Froome (Sky) put in another good ride to finish 20th at the same time as Cunego.
With the mountain stages completed, the 2011 Tour de Suisse has two days remaining including Sunday’s decisive 32.1km time trial in Schaffhausen. It remains to be seen whether Cunego has given himself enough of a time buffer to secure the overall win over stronger rivals against the clock on Sunday.
Tour de Suisse 2011, stage seven: Vaduz to Serfaus, 222.8 km
1. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM
2. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 35 secs
3. Jose Rojas (Spa) Movistar at 48 secs
4. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Cervelo at 51 secs
5. Alberto Losada (Spa) Katusha at 54 secs
6. Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil-DCM at 1-33
7. Jan Bakelants (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 1-34
8. Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM at 2-30
9. George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing
10. Manuele Boaro (Ita) Saxo Bank-Sungard at same time
17. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-ISD at 4-39
20. Chris Froome (GB) Sky at 4-39
93. Ian Stannard (GB) Sky at 17-12
125. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad at 24-26
139. Ben Swift (GB) Sky at 24-26
Overall classification after stage seven
1. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-ISD
2. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank at 1-23
3. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank at 1-36
4. Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 1-41
5. Levi Leipheimer (USA) RadioShack at 1-59
6. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard-Trek at 2-38
7. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank at 3-10
8. Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Katusha at 3-11
9. Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing at 3-20
10. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) HTC-Highroad at 3-22
20. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 16-18
52. Chris Froome (GB) Sky at 41-40
87. Ian Stannard (GB) Sky at 1-03-30
113. Ben Swift (GB) Sky at 1-18-15
137. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad at 1-29-36
Race leader Damiano Cunego
Thomas De Gendt wins
Tour de Suisse 2011: Related links
Stage six: Kruijswijk climbs to win stage six
Stage six photo gallery
Stage five: Bozic sprints to win
Stage four: Hushovd beats Sagan to stage four win
Stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three: Sagan wins as Cunego takes lead
Stage three photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage two: Soler leads Tour de Suisse, Froome ninth overall
Cavendish and Swift line up for Tour de Suisse