South Africas Robert Hunter clinched a big win on Monday when he prevailed over a five-man escape group in the third stage of the Tour of Switzerland.
With his stage win the South African star also finds himself in the lead in the points competition, fourteen points ahead of Jan Ullrich and sixteen points in front of Aussie sprinter Robbie McEwen.
He claimed third in the bunch gallop in stage 2 on Sunday, and this time round Hunter attacked the escape group on the final ascent to the finish line and showed them a clean pair of cleats.
The initial nine-rider group went clear after 47km. They were Andrei Zintchenko (Milaneza-Maia), Hunter, Christophe Stevens (Chocolade Jacques), Alberto Ongarato (Fassa Bortolo), Marco Zanotti (Vini Caldirola), Alessandro Cortinovis (Lampre), Peter Wuyts (Mr.Bookmaker.com-Palmans), Gregory Rast (Phonak ) and Jurgen Van Goolen (Quick.Step-Davitamon).
After 70 km, the group had reduced to just five riders, namely Hunter, Ongarato, Wuyts, Rast and Van Goolen, holding a gap of 145 over the peloton.
The group wasnt a threat to the overall lead of Ullrich, so T-Mobile werent too eager to bring them back. The gap grew to three minutes at the 83 km mark and kept growing until it reached 952 with 42 km to go. By then it was clear that they wouldnt be caught.
The five leaders maintained their advantage over the T-Mobile led peloton, where even Jan Ullrich was working in order to improve his condition. With 25 km to go, the gap was still 951 and only started to come down when Chocolade Jacques started working. The speed lifted markedly after that, and by the finish, the peloton was just 400 back to the leaders.
The attacks started on the two climbs leading up to the finish. Wuyts won the Cat. 4 Le Day climb with 8 km to go, beating Van Goolen and Rast, but then Rast then counter-attacked, and only Hunter could follow.
Rast and Hunter put time into the rest of their companions on the final 3 km climb up to Juraparc, and although Rast took the points on the Cat. 3 Col du Mont dOrzeires, it was Hunter who proved to be too strong for the Swiss rider at the finish, winning the stage comfortably.
The South African speedster has been threatening for a while to get a top result and came very close in the Tour of Germany last week. He has been in high spirits and very expectant of a big moment in the past couple of weeks.
On Monday it all came good for The Rocket and he sent a clear signal to his Rabobank team who are finalising their selection for the Tour de France in the coming two weeks.
1 Robert Hunter (RSA) Rabobank 4.05.07 (45.285 km/h)
2 Grégory Rast (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems 0.02
3 Jurgen Van Goolen (Bel) Quick.Step-Davitamon 0.19
4 Alberto Ongarato (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 0.29
5 Peter Wuyts (Bel) MrBookmaker.com-Palmans 0.31
6 Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC 3.59
7 Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Domina Vacanze
8 Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) Quick.Step-Davitamon
9 Fabian Jeker (Swi) Saunier Duval-Prodir
10 Steve Zampieri (Swi) Vini Caldirola-Nobili Rubinetterie
1 Robert Hunter (RSA) Rabobank 41 pts
2 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team 27
3 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Domo 25
4 Oscar Camenzind (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems 25
5 Fabian Jeker (Swi) Saunier Duval-Prodir 20
6 Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Domina Vacanze 20
7 Olaf Pollack (Ger) Gerolsteiner 20
8 Steve Zampieri (Swi) Vini Caldirola-Nobili Rubinetterie 16
9 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Fassa Bortolo 13
10 Grégory Rast (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems 12