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VERBIER, Switzerland (VN) — Rui Costa (Movistar) chased down a resurgent Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) in the final meters of stage 2 in the 2012 Tour de Suisse on Sunday, winning the stage and seizing the overall lead.
Schleck had laid down what appeared to be the decisive attack with 6km to go in the 218.3km leg from Verbania to Verbier, which featured two beyond-category climbs — the first at 87.8km at Simplon pass and the second at 216.5km on the run-in to the finish at the Verbier ski station.
But those final few meters proved too much for the RadioShack rider, and Costa overhauled him just short of the finish and powered past for the victory.
Costa said he wasn’t thinking about going for the win or the jersey, but rather was testing his legs — and his rivals.
“I hadn’t raced anything since Romandie, and these situations always give you some doubts,” he said. “That’s why I attacked so many times on the climb — to see how my rivals were doing, but above all, to know how my feelings were. The fact that Alejandro (Valverde) was behind also made me more free to move, because I knew that, if I couldn’t go away, there was still him.”
When he made his final charge, Costa continued, “I saw Schleck was really far and wasn’t really thinking about winning, but my move was strong, I saw myself doing well and getting closer and closer. When I reached him, I took a short breath and attacked because I saw he was really short of energy. ”
It worked. Costa went on to the win and the jersey. Schleck hung on for second, four seconds behind, followed by Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Euskaltel-Euskadi) in third at 12 seconds. The RadioShack rider now sits second overall at 8 seconds with Roman Kreuziger (Astana) third at 15 seconds.
“The plan was to try to win the stage. I was so hoping I could make it,” said Schleck. “The team was so committed to me all day. … I had a good position. Right now I know I should have waited 1 or 2k more to attack, but you have half a second to make that decision and I went all in at that point. I felt it was the time.”
Defending champion Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) crossed 13th on the day at 22 seconds and now sits 13th overall at 37 seconds.
How it happened
With 50km to race Ryan Anderson (Spidertech-C10) and Alessandro Bazzana (Team Type 1-Sanofi) were off the front with just over a minute’s advantage. RadioShack and Rabobank were on the front of the bunch with three Spidertechs sitting on.
Some 28km from the finish the two escapees were swept up and Liquigas-Cannondale launched race leader Peter Sagan toward taking the sprint bonuses on offer, a feat they repeated 14km further along, giving him an additional six-second cushion on Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan), second on GC after the stage-1 time trial.
Then Sagan sat up for what would be a damp 11km ascent to the ski station, apparently content to trade the leader’s jersey for the points jersey.
The actual climb itself was 6.9km long, averaging 7.6 percent. But Laurens Ted Dam (Rabobank) wasn’t waiting for the official start — he rolled off with about 9km to go, taking a small and short-lived lead.
RadioShack-Nissan then came forward and applied pressure to the greatly reduced group, down to about 30 riders. Shortly afterward, Schleck made his move, opening up a substantial lead with 6km to go. In less than a kilometer Schleck had a 22-second advantage. Behind, Rabobank was working to minimize the damage.
John Gadret (Ag2r-La Mondiale) was next to leap away as Schleck extended his lead to 33 seconds with 4km to go. He didn’t make much headway, though; the bunch quickly ran him down.
With 3km to go Schleck held a 30-second advantage over a disorganized pursuit, now down to a dozen riders. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) fell off the back, but fought his way back.
Tom Danielson (Garmin-Barracuda) was next to try his luck, opening a slight gap. Gadret followed as the bunch began to disintegrate. Ahead, Schleck clung to a 21-second advantage as he cleared the KOM point.
Then Costa gave it the gas and began to slash into Schleck’s lead as the RadioShack man started to show signs of fatigue.
With 200 meters to go Costa had his wheel — and then the Movistar rider shot past for the stage win and the leader’s jersey.
“For me, getting the leader’s jersey in Switzerland is amazing,” Costa said. “But there’s still a long way to go and we must go day by day.”
As for Schleck, he said: “We’re not finished yet. In a way it’s good that we don’t take the leader’s jersey so we won’t have to control the race and now I’m second in the overall. This gives us a good position with more hard stages coming up.”
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from the 2012 Tour de Suisse.