For Tour de France contenders, the Tour de Suisse is almost all about polishing your form before July. And on stage six, the most mountainous and longest of this year’s race, from Lance Armstrong through to Andy and Frank Schleck, a large number of Contador’s rivals made it clear that they are fast approaching their top condition.

On a day featuring nearly 5,000 metres of climbing, of all those Tour stars it was Rabobank’s Robert Gesink that shone the brightest, scooping both the stage win and the overall lead.

The lanky Dutchman soared away from the main pack on the 23 kilometre long Albulapass, crossed through the snowfields at the summit with around a minute’s advantage and after a tricky descent to the finish at La Punt soloed in for his first victory since the Giro D’Emilia Classic last autumn.

The rider who tried the hardest to chase down Gesink was Saxo Bank’s Andy Schleck, second in last year’s Tour. Schleck broke away with Gesink when the Dutchman attacked with five kilometres to go, but he then sat up and slid back towards the main group of chasers.

Missing from this group of around eight was HTC-Columbia’s Tony Martin, the former race leader, but two names which seem certain to be up there in July were present: Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) and a certain Lance Armstrong (RadioShack).

Riding the strongest he has done in the mountains this year, Armstrong was content to follow wheels on most of the 23 kilometre ascent. However, as soon as the eight-man group reached the summit, the American was on the front, driving away in a bid to reduce Gesink’s lead.

Not even a dangerously twisting descent seemed to deter Armstrong and company, and by the finish they had cut Gesink’s lead to 42 seconds. Fifth on the stage, the American is now seventh overall, 55 seconds down.

Could Armstrong win the Tour de Suisse for a second time in his career? It’s not out of the question. The final time trial at Liestal on Sunday is 26 kilometres long and hilly, and Gesink can defend himself reasonably well in that kind of terrain in an individual race against the clock. On the other hand, Armstrong is clearly on rising form, and final time trials have always been one of his strong points.

Following the worst crash of his career two days ago, HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish did not start today’s stage. According to his team, though, his condition is steadily improving and despite not racing, he trained over two major mountain passes.

“He had a bad night and has some back pain but he’s slowly getting better,” said team doctor Helge Riepenhof, “It was good he rode those two climbs today.”

RESULTS

Tour de Suisse 2010, stage six: Meiringen – La Punt, 213.3km

1. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank


2. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d’Epargne

3. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha

Overall classification after stage six

1. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank


2. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d’Epargne at 29sec

3. Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing Team

Robert Gesink, Tour de Suisse 2010, stage 6



Robert Gesink solos to take the stage win and overall lead

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