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Markus Zberg impressed everyone with his climbing in the Alps today (foto by Tim de Waele)
Markus Zberg impressed everyone with his climbing in the Alps today (foto by Tim de Waele)

Markus Zberg spends day in break, finishes 11th on climb to Briançon

12. June 2009


Though stage 6 of the Dauphiné from Gap to Briançon was relatively short with only two categorized climbs, it could hardly be considered a recovery day.  Raced at a very rapid average speed over the Col d'Izoard and finishing atop the Briançon citadel, Friday's stage was a day designed for climbers to shine. 

Pierrick Fedrigo from Bbox-Bouygues Telecom calmed all French nerves by grabbing the stage victory while Valverde, Evans and Contador rode in together four minutes later.  BMC's sprinter Markus Zberg worked into the day's break, stuck with the climbers up most of the Izoard and hung on to finish an excellent 11th on the day.  The steepness of the final climb meant that what had been a peloton at the bottom became by the top groups of three and four stragglers at a time, each clocking distinct arrival times.   Alex Moos and Thomas Frei finished together, losing just a handful of seconds to the race leaders.

Short, fast stage

"Today was relatively short, but as I've seen time and again these short ones can be wicked fast," BMC's Brent Bookwalter reported.  "Not to mention we climbed that beast of a climb, the Izoard.  It's cool to be racing in this spectacular area over these roads I've been watching on TV during the Tour for years."  Since stage 6 was less likely to be used by the race leaders to advance their causes, it was going to be a good day to get into the breaks.  While Thomas Frei remained the team's protected rider for the GC, several other of the members were freed up to find the right group for an escape.  "The beginning of the stage in particular was really fast and lots of breakaway attempts were being made," Markus Zberg said.  "The profile of this stage was well suited to the strengths of Mathias Frank or Alex Moos, but it's not always easy to choose the right break to go with."  As a result, BMC's only sprinter on the Dauphiné squad ended up getting into a breakaway climbing one of the toughest hills in the Alps.  "It was good to have Markus in the breakaway because he is climbing very well and it was important for the team to be represented up front today," Directeur Sportif John Lelangue explained. 

More than a sprinter

"Markus is impressive all around.  Sure, he is a 'sprinter' but I don't think many people, especially in America realize how well a sprinter like Markus can go up mountains," Bookwalter explained after the stage.  "Initially, we actually missed that break which ended up going.  Before it was too far away, Markus and Jeff jumped super hard and smacked it across."  Louder sacrificed himself working to help Zberg bridge the gap to the winning breakaway.  "The big group had already slipped away so Jeff and I decided to try to catch it," Zberg said.  "Jeff did a lot of great work for me so that I was able to make it across, and he then slipped back to the main peloton."  The breakaway group was comprised of many excellent climbers who were not too close on the GC, consequently the chances for success were quite high.  "Valverde's guys were going to be content to let something go as long as no one high up on GC snuck in there," Bookwalter explained.  "They had let the gap go out to a handful of minutes by the time we hit the base of the Izoard."

Giving himself a head start

Perhaps surprising his breakaway companions, Markus Zberg attacked the group on the early slopes of the Izoard.  "The beginning of the Izoard is not so steep, so I put in an attack to give myself a little bit of breathing room," Zberg explained.  "Going into the harder parts of the big climb with an advantage, I could ride at my own tempo to help me stay with the leaders for as long as possible."  Zberg was finally separated from the pure climbers close to the summit, and rode the descent with Mikel Astarloza who had tried to bridge to the break on the Izoard climb.  Then the straight shot up the side of the Briançon citadel put a final sting in everyone's legs. "I did my best up the final climb, but it was still not that great," Zberg modestly explained.  "At the moment my sprint is very strong which maybe means that my climbing has suffered a bit, but I certainly tried my hardest."  

Most difficult day yet to come

The team will go into the stage with a two-pronged approach.  "Saturday is certainly the most difficult day of the Dauphiné since they will start out climbing the Galibier, then the easier side of the Télégraphe, then the Croix de Fer and finally the first 14 kilometers of the Madeleine," Lelangue explained.  "We will have several of our riders being aggressive and going for the breaks while we hope that Thomas will stay with the leaders and move up as much as possible on the GC." Though Zberg acknowledges that Saturday's stage 7 to Saint-François-Longchamp may contain too much climbing for him, he is planning on figuring prominently in the finale into Grenoble.  "Tomorrow will be really hard and more of a day for Thomas or Mathias," Zberg said.  "But I am planning for the last stage since I know I can climb well enough to be in with a chance for the victory at the end."