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Zülle claims horror stage

Where's the beach? Race leader Dario Frigo of Italy grinds through the snow towards Leysin

(Keystone)

Switzerland's Alex Zülle has the won penultimate stage of the Tour de Romandie - a bitter climb through rain and snow to the resort town of Leysin.

Zülle managed to sprint past five other riders in the last metres of the mountain stage, which started over two hours earlier in the town of Sierre.

Frenchman David Moncoutie came second, ahead of Spain's Santiago Perez.

Speaking shortly after the race, the 33-year-old Zülle said he was delighted with the win, inspite of the conditions.

"It was very, very difficult. With the snow the leg muscles are cold," Zülle said.

Portrayed as the crowning-stage of the six-day event, organizers were forced to shorten the course to 86 kilometres.

Snow-covered roads

Heavy snow covered two of the stage's intermediate high-passes, posing a serious risk to riders on the downhill stretches.

As it turned out, the amended stage was brutal enough. The race shifted from a battle between athletes to a struggle for survival.

As riders started the climb to Leysin, snow flurries cut visibility and covered the road in a treacherous layer of sleet.

Miserable weather has been a constant feature of this year's 706-kilometre tour through French-speaking Switzerland, which has not seen a dry stage after departing Geneva five days ago.

The conditions have been so grim, that rumours of a riders' strike spread through the peleton on Friday.

Dario holds lead

Italian Dario Frigo, who is defending the title he won a year ago, managed to hold onto the yellow jersey after finishing Saturday's stage several seconds behind Zülle.

Frigo now heads into the final test on Sunday - an 18.3-kilometre time trial in Lausanne - just 20 seconds ahead of Spain's Fernandez Santigo, and fellow countryman Andre Noe.

Among those likely to give Frigo's hold on the tour trophy a shake is Australian Cadel Evans, a strong time-trial rider currently in fourth place, just 29 seconds behind.

Switzerland's Alexander Moos remains an outside hope for a home victory, after finishing Saturday's stage in seventh place overall.

by Jacob Greber


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