Kim Kirchen continued Team Columbia’s almost embarassing run of success on Friday, winning the seventh Tour of Switzerland stage to Vallorba near the French border with his trade mark last kilometre attack.
The quiet Luxembourg rider let 2008 winer Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) attack with three kilometres, used other attacks by team mates and by Fabian Cancellara to close the gap, before jumping away himself and passing Kreuziger just before the line.
Slovenia’s Tadej Valjavec (Ag2r) hung on to the overall lead but with only Saturday’s uphill finish to Crans Montana to gain time on Cancellara, it looks as if the big Swiss tester is favourite to win because of the final 39km time trial stage around his home town of Berne.
It was a classic Kirchen win and gave Team Columbia its fifth win in the race and another double header day, after Andre Griepel won stage two at the Ster-ElektroToer in Holland. Columbia has now won 42 races and that’s just the men. Their women’s team is equally as dominant.
Kirchen crashed out of the Tour of California in February and fractured his collarbone. It was his first win of the season and confirms he is back on form just in time for the Tour de France. Last year he went close to a stage win with a similar attack and wore the yellow jersey for four days.
“It’s also a great boost to my morale after what happened to me earlier in the season,” he said.
“Kreuziger attacked with three kilometres to go, but I waited to see what would happen and then went for it with less than a kilometre to the finish. I know I can go flat out on the pedals for the last 500 metres.”
“Fortunately my form’s in really good shape now, in time for the Tour de France. I was a little too good early on and faded but this year I hope to be good right to the end of the Tour.”
“People keep asking me why Team Columbia wins so much but I think it’s because we learned a lot of lessons last year when we were very successful too. We keep on gaining in experience, but the most important thing is we’re willing to help each other in the races, we’re friends as well as team-mates. On top of that, the young guys are hungry for success. We ride to win each race.”
Mark Cavendish perfectly symbolised the team ethos on Friday. He has won two stages at the race and won Milan-San Remo in March but is humble enough to drop back and help team mate Tony Martin when he crashed in the rain. With no other flat stage in the race, Cavendish could have pulled out and gone home. Instead he is working on his form for the Tour de France and earning the support of his team mates for the Tour sprints by working for them in Switzerland.
“We’ve had four different winners in five stages, which is a sign of our versatility but also how strong that team spirit is again. In Columbia-Highroad it’s not like there’s one super-star here and everybody works for him as if they were in an office doing the routine stuff from nine to five. Everybody has a chance,” team manager Rolf Aldag explained after the stage.
“That brings up the squad’s level of motivation and sense of responsibility across the board and by a massive level. The whole squad knows that if, for example, they work to bring one rider to the foot of a climb, then the next day they’ll get a good lead-out in return.”
Saturday’s 182km eighth stage of the Tour of Switzerland is from Le Sentier to Crans-Montana.
Stage seven: Bad Zurzach-Vallorbe Juraparc, 204 km
1. Kim Kirchen (Lux) Columbia-Highroad
2. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas at 2sec
3. Peter Velits (Svk) Milram at 7sec
4. Olivier Zaugg (Swi) Liquigas
5. Eros Capecchi (Ita) Fuji-Servetto
6. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank
7. Rui Alberto Faria (Por) Caisse d’Epargne
8. Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Katusha
9. Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-Highroad
10. Chris Anker Sorensen (Den) Saxo Bank all same time.
Overall classification after stage seven
1. Tadej Valjavec (Slo) Ag2r
2. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank at 9sec
3. Olivier Zaugg (Swi) Liquigas at 14sec
4. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas at 31sec
5. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana at 45sec
6. Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-Highroad at 51sec
7. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Columbia-Highroad at 55sec
8. Gustav Erik Larsson (Swe) Saxo Bank at 56sec
9. Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Katusha at 1-01
10. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre at 1-02
Tadej Valjavec retains his race lead
Stage six: Cavendish wins again
Tour of Switzerland stage six photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage four: Breschel wins stage; Valjavec new leader in Switzerland
Stage three: Cavendish wins Tour of Switzerland sprint
Cycling Weekly’s all-time list of British pro winners