Slovenia’s Tadej Valjavec (Ag2r) stopped Saxo Bank from enjoying a perfect day at the Tour of Switzerland on Tuesday by snatching the overall race lead thanks to a precious time bonus.
Fabian Cancellara has been basking in the bright yellow jersey in his home stage race since winning the opening time trial on Saturday but Saxo Bank decided to switch tactics as the big mountain stages approached. Unfortunately it only partially paid off.
Andy Schleck cleverly managed to get in the 26-rider break that escaped from the bunch on the early climb of the Gotthardpass and as the bunch failed to react in the finale, Saxo Bank decided to try to put Schleck in yellow.
He and team mate Matti Breschel worked hard on the front and managed to outpace the bunch, meaning Schleck pulled back the 52 seconds he had lost in the opening time trial. Unfortunately someone at Saxo Bank had not done their maths to perfection.
Breschel managed to win the sprint, with a late surge to the line ahead of Maxim Iglinsky (Astana) but Valjavec got third and took the four-second time bonus.
He was only two seconds behind Schleck overall and so pulled on the jersey much to Schleck’s misery. Peter Velits of Slovakia is now third overall at 11 seconds. Cancellara finished in the bunch at 1-04 and slipped to sixth at 20 seconds.
There was probably some interesting conversation at the Saxo Bank dinner table after the stage. Breschel deserved his stage win but surely it would have been better for everyone if Cancellara had kept the lead for one more day.
After winning Monday’s stage with a very impressive sprint finish, Mark Cavendish (Columbia) was in the main bunch in the finale but then finished on his own at 2-19.
“The good thing about cycling is that you can change your tactics for lots of reasons,” Matti Breschel said, trying to justify Saxo Bank half successful game plan.
“We had the leader’s jersey with Fabian but we didn’t want the responsibility of having to control the race all day and so we sent two riders in the break. It worked out because we got the stage victory and Andy also gained time on all the other overall contenders. He almost got the leader’s jersey as well.”
Schleck will not doubt try to make amends during Wednesday’s 202km fifth stage from Stafa to Serfaus in Austria. It includes the cat one Alaberpass mid-stage and then ends with another cat one climb, topping out at an altitude of 1,429 metres.
Stage four: Biasca-Stäfa, 195km
1. Matti Breschel (Den) Saxo Bank in 5-01-34
2. Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Astana
3. Tadej Valjavec (Slo) Ag2r
4. Peter Velits (Svk) Milram
5. Olivier Zaugg (Swi) Liquigas
6. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank
7. Alexander Efimkin (Rus) Ag2r
8. Thomas Rohregger (Aut) Milram all at same time
9. Robert Kiserlovsky (Cro) Fuji-Servetto at 5sec
10. Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Katusha at 1-03
105. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia-Highroad at 2-19
Overall classification after stage four
1. Tadej Valjavec (Slo) Ag2r in 13-27-57
2. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 2sec
3. Peter Velits (Svk) Milram at 11sec
4. Thomas Rohregger (Aut) Milram at 13sec
5. Olivier Zaugg (Swi) Liquigas at 14sec
6. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank at 20sec
7. Robert Kiserlovsky (Cro) Fuji-Servetto at 34sec
8. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas at 42sec
9. Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Astana at same time
10. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana at 45sec
116. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia-Highroad at 16-30
Tadej Valjavec has moved into the race lead
Matti Breschel wins the stage
Mark Cavendish grits his teeth on one of the climbs
Stage 3: Cavendish wins Tour of Switzerland sprint
Stage 2: Eisel wins Tour of Switzerland sprint
Stage 1: Cancellara back to best with Suisse stage win
Tour de France 2009 spectator guide