(c) Tim De Waele

After steadily gaining ground in the days leading up to stage 7 in the 81st Tour de Suisse, Team KATUSHA ALPECIN’S Simon Špilak used his team to perfection on Friday to strike out for the stage win and the race lead. With precision help from teammate Rein Taaramäe at the start of the 12k climb on the Tiefenbach glacier to make the race hard and distance the others, Špilak struck out solo with 8k remaining to take the victory with a winning time of 3:58:36 (41.819 km/h) on the 166.3k stage. In the process, the Slovenian rider earned rights to the yellow leader’s jersey in an effort to repeat his 2015 victory in the Suisse tour.

“Immediately from the start this morning I felt that I had good legs. Yesterday it was 30 degrees, but today it was 20 and this is better for me. We had a plan for today and the team was so good. Not to perform well was not an option. (Baptiste) Planckaert and (Jhonatan) Restrepo went with the early break while the others stayed with me to keep me out of the wind. Taaramäe was getting our drinks and then at the end he was still with me on the final climb and did a great job,” said Simon Špilak.

Simon’s effort produced a solo win by 22-seconds to Ion Izagirre (Bahrain Merida) and 36-seconds to Cannondale-Drapac’s Joe Dombrowski. For the general classification, Špilak holds 52-seconds to Damiano Caruso (BMC) and 1:05 to Steven Kruijswijk of Team LottoNL-Jumbo. Former leader Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondial) lost more than two minutes.

“With 7-8k to go, I dropped Rein and Joe Dombrowski. Maybe that was too far from the finish, but what else could I do? I had to take the jersey for my team. Now it is 52-seconds to Caruso and more than one minute to Kruijswijk. Tomorrow is a sprinter’s stage so we should be able to control that and then a long TT on the last day. And yes, I am not so bad in the TT,” concluded race leader Simon Špilak. It’s the ninth win of the season for Team KATUSHA ALPECIN and first of the year for Špilak.

“Today was a good day,” said sports director Claudio Cozzi. “I have such a good team here. We decided everything in the meeting before the start and I am very satisfied. Now we will see how things go, step by step.”

It’s goodbye to the mountains for this year with two stages still to race. Saturday’s stage 8 is a short one at 100k before the 28.6k individual time trial brings the race to a conclusion on Sunday in Schaffhausen.