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Zülle wins Tour de Suisse

Alex Zülle during the last stage of the tour cycling towards victory

(Keystone)

Local favourite, Alex Zülle, has won this year's Tour de Suisse, finishing one minute and 27 seconds ahead of Piotr Wadecki from Poland.

Zülle was finally able to savour his first Tour de Suisse title, after finishing Thursday's individual time trial in third place with a time of 44 minutes 55.15 seconds.

The 33-year-old from canton St Gallen has been the favourite to win this year's Tour since he won the first day's time trial by five seconds.

"It has been difficult and there were nervous days. But this is a dream," Zülle said after the race.

No stranger to the big occasion, Zülle has already won Spain's prestigious Vuelta tour twice as well as twice finishing runner-up in the sport's biggest race, the Tour de France.

Nevertheless, he insisted that Thursday's win had been particularly memorable.

"It's always been of great importance to try and win the Tour de Suisse," Zülle told swissinfo after crossing the finish line. "Coming second in the Tour de France was also like a victory for me and to do that twice was just perfect.

"But to win here in Switzerland in front of my own public and to have them cheering me on and supporting me for the whole ten days - that was a beautiful feeling."

From cheat to champion

Zülle's victory made him only the 16th Swiss champion in the 69-year history of the country's biggest cycling race.

His triumph also marks a considerable fight-back for Zülle following the doping scandal that famously interrupted his career four years ago.

After admitting that he had taken the performance-enhancing substance EPO during the 1998 Tour de France, Zülle was banned from cycling for seven months.

Insisting that he has been clean ever since, Zülle told swissinfo that he was delighted to be making positive headlines once again.

"Life isn't always positive, no matter what route you take," Zülle pointed out, "but sure, it's a great satisfaction to demonstrate again that I can be among the top riders. That was always my aim on this Tour - just to be among the best, or possibly make it onto the podium.

"So to have actually won it, well that's perfect."

Steinhauser takes stage victory

German cyclist Tobias Steinhauser grabbed the stage prize by finishing the final day's 34.5 kilometre stretch from Lyss to the Expo.02 national exhibition site in Biel, in 44 minutes 17 seconds.

The day was to end in disappointment though for Zülle's former team-mate Laurent Dufaux with the 33-year-old from Montreux having to settle for fourth place in the overall race.

After having whittled down Zülle's lead to just three seconds on Wednesday, Dufaux fell behind significantly in the final race. Having started two minutes ahead on Thursday, Dufaux could only watch as this year's winner overtook him just three kilometres before the finishing line.

"I am disappointed. I really wanted to finish among the top three," Dufaux explained.

Zülle finished the Tour de Suisse one minute 27 seconds ahead of Piotr Wadecki from Poland and one minute 38 seconds ahead of number three, Nicolas Fritsch from France.

by Billi Bierling and Mark Ledsom


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