Armstrong poised to pounce in Tour de Suisse
Lance Armstrong, Tour de Suisse 2010, stage 8
The Tour de Suisse's final mass-start stage on Saturday saw breakaways Rui Faria da Costa and Jose Joaquin Rojas take the top two stage placings for Caisse d'Epargne, whilst Robert Gesink (Rabobank) continues to lead overall. But Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) remains ideally placed to win both tomorrow's time trial - and perhaps the race outright.
On an extremely hilly day with 2,500 metres of climbing, a breakaway was waiting to happen and both Da Costa and Rojas managed to make it into the nine-man move of the stage.
Caisse d'Epargne were the only team with two riders in the break, and the two alternated attacks as the finish town of Liestal approached until Da Costa managed to go clear with ten kilometres left to go.
A former winner of the Four Days of Dunkirk, the 23-year-old took a steady pace on the undulating run-in, finally crossing the line with a 15 second advantage over team-mate Rojas.
Race leader Robert Gesink was almost without Rabobank team-mates at the finish, a consequence of his squad had working their fingers to the bone to keep the break within a respectable distance. Maxime Monfort, Belgium's national time triallist was present in the move and only five minutes down overall, and Gesink did not want to risk Monfort regaining enough time to become a late challenger.
But after crossing the finish line in a bunch of around 30 riders - the average speed of over 41 kmh had whittled down the front group - Gesink could not get out of the finish town quick enough. His aim? To check out the time trial route that evening, a sign of how seriously the young Dutch climber is taking his bid to win the first week-long stage race of his career.
It won't be easy, though. Armstrong is poised to pounce, just 55 seconds back in seventh place overall. Despite the American's team manager Johan Bruyneel playing down his chances, on Sunday's undulating 27 kilometre course Big Tex has a good chance of taking his first UCI-classified victory since his comeback started two years ago. It would also be the perfect psychological warning sign to his rivals just as the Tour de France approaches.
Gesink has repeatedly identified Armstrong as his biggest threat, although Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), fifth at 42 seconds, is by no means a poor time triallist, either. But with seven riders at less than a minute of Gesink and a difficult time trial still to come, the final result of the Tour de Suisse 2010 is far from being settled.
Rui De Costa attacks
Da Costa wins stage eight
Robert Gesink maintains overall lead
Stage seven: Burghardt gets second stage win