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After almost two years since his last success, at the Tour of Burgos in August 2003, Illes Balears' Pablo Lastras has finally given another demonstration of his class by taking today's stage of the Tour of Switzerland after a 10km climb up to Verbier. Michael Rogers kept the overall lead after a strong showing from his Quick Step team-mates. But the pressure increased behind him as Aitor Gonzalez jumped clear of the yellow jersey group on the final climb to gain more than a minute and jump to fourth overall, just 36 seconds down on the Australian.
One of a group of 13 riders who had spent almost the whole stage at the front of the race, Lastras stuck stubbornly with or close to the other members of the lead group as attacks went and were brought back both before and on the final climb. Phonak's Niki Aebersold was particularly active, as were Liberty's Carlos Barredo and Saunier Duval's Jos Angel Gomez Marchante, but with 3km to go only Lastras, Barredo and Gerolsteiner's Fabian Wegmann were still in contention for the stage win, with Gonzalez closing fast.
Barredo attacked again, but could not stay clear of Lastras, who countered as he reached his compatriot. The Liberty rider was unable to respond, and the Illes Balears rider drove himself over the last steep section to take the victory.
After failing to make hardly any mark at all last season, the Spaniard was finally diagnosed with inflammation of the ligaments in his groin, and an operation in February this year seems to have resolved the problem. A stage winner in the 2003 Tour de France, Lastras may now have done enough to get himself into his team's line-up for this year's race.
Tomorrow's decisive stage may only run a shade over 100km but getting on for half of that will involve climbing three monster mountains - the hors catgorie Nufenen (2478m), Gotthard (2109m) and Furka (2431m). There is a descent of more than 20km off the Furka into the finish at Ulrichen. Rogers will be looking for the biggest win of his career so far, but the momentum may be with Gonzalez and the Euskaltel team, who won the Daupin with I¤igo Landaluze last weekend and seem to be coming into form nicely for the Tour de France.
Stage 8, Lenk-Verbier
1 Pablo Lastras (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne 162.2km in 4.09.09 (39.06kph)
2 Carlos Barredo (Spa) Liberty Seguros 0.16
3 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner
4 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel 0.19
5 Walter Bnteau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 0.56
6 Daniele Righi (Ita) Lampre-Caffita 1.00
7 Koldo Gil (Spa) Liberty Seguros 1.17
8 Frank Schleck (Lux) CSC 1.21
9 Daniel Atienza (Spa) Cofidis
10 Michael Rogers (Aus) Quick Step
1 Michael Rogers (Aus) Quick Step-Innergetic 30.04.33
2 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile 0.20
3 Brad McGee (Aus) Franaise des Jeux 0.22
4 Gonzalez 0.36
5 Schleck 1.27
6 Gil 1.38
7 Chris Horner (USA) Saunier Duval 1.40
8 Beat Zberg (Swi) Gerolsteiner 2.32
9 Georg Totschnig (Aut) Gerolsteiner 2.41
10 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) Phonak 3.12
11 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 3.20
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