SAMUEL PETREQUIN,AP Sports Writer LA PUNT, Switzerland (AP) Robert Gesink of the Netherlands won the grueling sixth stage of the Tour of Switzerland and claimed the race leader’s jersey on Thursday, while Lance Armstrong showed he was returning to top form by finishing fifth.
Gesink, who trailed race leader Tony Martin of Germany by 27 seconds before Thursday’s stage, went on the attack on the third and final climb of the day to claim victory ahead of a group of eight riders led by Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran and Armstrong.
US rider Lance Armstrong from team Radioshack crosses the finish line during the 6th stage, a 213,3 km race from Meiringen to La Punt, at the 74nd Tour de Suisse UCI ProTour cycling race, in La Punt, Switzerland, Thursday, June 17, 2010. (AP Photo / KEYSTONE / Jean-Christophe Bott)
“It was a hard day. To be honest, I suffered in the beginning of (the last climb) the Albula,” the 38-year-old Armstrong said. “I couldn’t find my rhythm. I kept trying, to find my own tempo and some acceleration so I didn’t lose the pace. Overall I’m pretty happy.”
Armstrong, whose season has been hampered by illness and a crash, crossed the line 42 seconds back. He moved up to 7th overall, 55 seconds behind Gesink, who leads Uran by 29 seconds.
Armstrong is riding his last event before the Tour starts on July 3 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
“We still have to make another step up,” Armstrong said. “Today was not enough to try and win the Tour. We need another level, I think I can get another level in the next couple of weeks.”
RadioShack team boss Johan Bruyneel said Armstrong used his experience to reach the last summit in good position.
“Our mission was to stay in the main group, and we succeeded,” Bruyneel said. “Lance today showed it is not by chance he won the Tour de France seven times.”
Armstrong, whose team also includes Tour contenders Andreas Kloden and Levi Leipheimer, said they will have to play “the team card” to derail defending champion and huge favorite Alberto Contador’s ambition to win the event for a third time.
“It will be hard, with my age and the explosiveness of the other guys,” Armstrong said. “We’ll have to be smart and lucky. There are a handful of guys who are bigger favorites than me.”
No one was able to follow Gesink when he attacked from the group of favorites in the Albula, where Martin and Swiss star Fabian Cancellara were dropped.
Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck, who finished second in last year’s Tour, first looked like he could win the stage but his bold move in the last ascent was unsuccessful as he was caught by Gesink and finished 1 minute, 20 seconds behind.
Netherland’s Robert Gesink from team Rabobank, the new overall leader, raises his arm after crossing the finish line to win the 6th stage, a 213,3 km race from Meiringen to La Punt, at the 74nd Tour de Suisse UCI ProTour cycling race, in La Punt, Switzerland, Thursday, June 17, 2010. (AP Photo / KEYSTONE / Jean-Christophe Bott)
“I knew I had to attack in the Albula,” Gesink said. “There was a big fight between me and Andy Schleck and finally my attack paid off.”
Friday’s seventh stage is a roughly 127-mile ride from Savognin to Wetzikon featuring three climbs. The race ends Sunday with a time trial.
“Lance Armstrong and Jacob Fuglsang will probably be my main rivals in the time trial,” Gesink said.
After showing he has the legs to compete in the mountains, Armstrong will now learn if he has rediscovered the power he used to destroy his rivals in time trials during his heyday.
Following his three and half years of retirement, Armstrong struggled in the Tour time trials last year.
“I’ll do my best on Sunday,” Armstrong said. “I guess that’s one fortunate thing about the Tour in the summer: There is only one time trial. But I have to be happy. I’m almost 39 years old and I’m still at the front.”
The pack rides during the 6th stage, a 213,3 km race from Meiringen to La Punt, in the 74thTour de Suisse UCI ProTour cycling race, near Oberalp Pass, Switzerland, Thursday, June 17, 2010. (AP Photo / KEYSTONE / Jean-Christophe Bott)