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Zülle prepares for last day challenge

Zülle must protect the leader's golden jersey for just one more day

(Keystone)

Switzerland's Alex Zülle is facing a close challenge from compatriot Laurent Dufaux as the Tour de Suisse cycling race heads for a thrilling finish.

Zülle appeared to have defended his 11-second lead over Dufaux in the race's overall standings following Wednesday's 235km slog from Vevey to Lyss - the longest individual stretch on this year's Tour.

But after the day's racing, Tour organisers announced that Dufaux had in fact managed to whittle Zülle's lead down to just three seconds.

Time bonus

Zülle's former Festina team-mate gained two seconds during a time-bonus section during the day's final section. He was then able to make up a further six seconds when the race jury determined a gap in the field between 28th and 29th place.

In professional cycling riders who finish in a group are all awarded the same time whether they are at the front of the group or the back. Since Dufaux crossed the line with the first group (in 23rd place) and Zülle with the second (in 40th place), the two Swiss are now agonisingly close in the standings going into Thursday's closing stage.

Favourite

Even with his diminished lead, Zülle will still be the favourite to win what would be his first ever Tour de Suisse title. Thursday's finale takes the form of an individual time trial - a form of cycling in which Zülle excels.

The riders will depart one by one from the Lyss start-point before racing against the clock in a 34.5km chase to this year's finish-line at the Expo.02 national exhibition site in Biel.

While Dufaux's good fortune is unlikely to raise a smile from Zülle, Wednesday's developments have at least fulfilled the organiser's pre-race hopes of a dramatic conclusion to Switzerland's biggest cycling race.

The battle for Wednesday's stage prize also provided some good drama with Saeco team rider Salvatore Commesso launching a brave bid for the victory. The veteran Italian's one-man breakaway was ended with just 7km to go, however, allowing German sprint specialist Erik Zabel to take the day's honours.

by Mark Ledsom, Lyss


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