Freire holds off sprinters for first-stage win

Updated: June 14, 2008, 12:24 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

LANGNAU, Switzerland -- Rabobank rider Oscar Freire led the field in a mass sprint to win the first stage of the 72nd Tour de Suisse on Saturday.

The 91-mile stage started and ended in Langnau, with Freire winning in 3 hours, 42 minutes, 35 seconds. Martin Elmiger of Switzerland was second in the same time.

The Spaniard's stage victory gave him the overall lead in the nine-day race, ahead of Elminger and Swiss rider David Loosli, who is third based on climb and sprint points.

"Looking on the map it might have seemed relatively easy but the climbs were very hard. They weren't long but the final one was especially steep and I had dig deep and suffer to make sure I was up there for the sprint.," Freire said.

Freire, a three-time world champion, will struggle to keep the lead against a strong field as the race heads into steeper terrain with a 122-mile run from Langnau to Flumserberg on Sunday.

"It's far too hard a climb for me. I can climb a bit but not in the big mountains," he said. "It's such a tough climb that I think whoever wins the stage can go on to win the Tour of Switzerland."

Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.