Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team rider Levi Leipheimer pounced on a well timed attack by Frank Schleck (Radioshack-Nissan) with less than 4km to go on a brutal HC climb at Tour de Suisse Stage 8.
Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) was well on his way to a solo victory, with more than a two minute gap. However, the GC battle was going on behind him between Leipheimer, Schleck, and Rui Costa (Movistar), who had fallen off the back of an already small and shattered peloton.
Leipheimer bridged to Schleck and Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Schleck did much of the work at the front until slightly more than a kilometer remained. Levi, Schleck and Nieve had cut Albasini's gap to 1'15", while the peloton behind them, which included other GC contenders such as Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Roman Kreuziger (Astana Pro Team) missed the very important move. The three up sprint for 2nd and 3rd, in the last 300 meters, came down to Nieve or Leipheimer. Nieve beat Leipheimer to the line, but Leipheimer's 3rd place finish was important for time purposes.
After the stage ended, Leipheimer moved up to 3rd place in the GC from 7th, just 21" back from Costa. Schleck moved into 2nd, 14" back.
“The team was good today," Leipheimer said. "The guys brought me to the bottom of the last climb in perfect position. The first part of the climb was hard but I could count on Cataldo. I was OK there. The last kilometers of the race were really steep. Schleck attacked, but I was able to stay with him. I think I did a good race. I’m happy because I’m improving day by day. It’s a good trajectory for the Tour de France. Tomorrow it won’t be easy. The stage is hard, but I will try to take it kilometer by kilometer. It will be a fight, but I will do my best to be there until the end.”
Peter Velits had attacked with Albasini and two others, and with 123km to go they already built up a gap of 3'15". The gap was 7'20" at its largest, but the peloton slowly chipped away at the lead as the race progressed. Velits and Albasini attacked with 30km to go and seemed to be working well together on a brutal mountain top finish. The mountain top finish included a Category 2 climb, which led into a brief descent, followed by an HC with very steep sections in the final 7km. Just before a brief descent, Albasini attacked with 18km remaining. Velits did not have the legs to stick to his wheel. Velits was eventually caught by the peloton with 4km to go.
Dario Cataldo was in the select group with Leipheimer, but as the group hit the steepest sections, Cataldo lost contact.
"We are happy about Levi's performance today," Sports Director Rik Van Slycke said. "Once again he has proven that he never gives up and that he will be one of the major players until the end of the race. Tomorrow the team will give him the maximum support to try to win this Tour de Suisse. Today we also tried to win the stage with Peter Velits. This morning during the technical meeting we decided that he had to try to go in a breakaway. We didn't get the result but Peter is improving day by day. "