Chris Froome moved into the top 10 at the Tour de Suisse after finishing a mountainous second stage in 12th position.
After impressing in Saturday’s time trial, Froome produced another dogged display on the tough final climb up to Crans Montana and crossed the line just 56 seconds down on the triumphant Mauricio Soler (Movistar).
The 149km trek from Airolo had started cautiously and it wasn’t until the riders had crested the hors-category Nufenenpass that anyone managed to spring clear of the bunch. Lloyd Mondory (AG2R) was the first man to do that and was followed by José Iván Gutiérrez (Movistar). The duo worked together productively and had built up a five-minute advantage before Leopard Trek stepped up the ante behind.
Omega-Pharma-Lotto would also lend a hand as the bunch approached the final climb of the day, and the pace they set ensured only 40-or-so riders remained as they began to rise skywards.
Pieter Weening (Rabobank) attacked from that bunch inside the last 15km and passed the lead duo, but all three would be swept up 3km later when Fränk Schleck (Leopard Trek) made his first big dig.
Schleck’s move splintered the peloton and even saw brother Andy fall of the pace, and the 31-year-old also kicked again after Mathias Frank (BMC), Danilo Di Luca (Katusha) and Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) had all tried their hand soon after.
That trio were caught with three kilometres to go, but despite Schleck’s best efforts he could not shake Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and the plucky Soler, and it was the latter rider who raced clear inside the final kilometre and crossed the line with a 12-second margin over his two nearest rivals.
The result also saw Soler leap to the top of the general classification, where he now holds a 16-second advantage over Cunego.
Froome meanwhile, finished the day less than a minute back in ninth place and Sports Director Steve de Jongh was impressed by his efforts.
He said: “Froomey showed yesterday he was in good form and today he did so again. It was really good to see him climbing so well, and it could maybe have been even better if he’d paced himself a bit more.
“We were telling him to wait until the final kilometre before making his move, but he attacked early and then got brought back and then found it difficult to hang on. He fought all the way though and to finish 12th on a tough mountain-top finish is great.
“A lot of big names lost time today – Andreas Kloden and Andy Schleck to name but a few – so we’re happy for him.
“All the other guys were saving their legs as much as possible for the sprint stages later in the week, and they’ll do so again tomorrow. It was good to see Mat Hayman not suffering the effects of yesterday’s crash, and once he’d got warmed up he wasn’t experiencing any pain.
“As for Froomey, he’ll try to maintain his GC position but he’s a little nervous because he’s struggled a bit for consistency this season. We’re not putting any pressure on him though because he’s performed really well so far.”