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First Edition Cycling News, Monday, July 20, 2009

Date published:
July 19, 2009, 1:00 BST
  • Le Mével happy with big GC move

    Christophe Le Mevel (Française des Jeux), part of the day-long escape, grabs a musette bag.
    Article published:
    July 19, 2009, 12:25 BST
    Richard Tyler

    Frenchman confident as Alps begin

    Alongside Columbia's George Hincapie, Française des Jeux's Christophe Le Mével was another benefactor of a stage 14 escape, as the Frenchman moved well up the general classification.

    While Hincapie came within five seconds of taking the yellow jersey, Le Mével moved from 30th position into fifth place, 0:43 in arrears of the race leader Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale).

    "This move is very good. Fifth in general classification after two weeks is gratifying," Le Mével told L'Equipe at the finish in Besançon. "I said to myself there would be a beautiful blow which was going to be done. We battled for 50km before the peloton let us go. "

    The former Crédit Agricole rider moved to Marc Madiot's Française des Jeux squad in the wake of his previous sponsor's withdrawal from the sport. The change of teams has also precipitated a change in objectives for the 28-year-old, who won a stage of the Giro d'Italia in 2005.

    He finished tenth overall at Paris-Nice in March and, more recently, recorded the same result at the Dauphiné Libéré. "I have a new role in the team. I have affirmed my ability in the one-week stage races," said Le Mével who has moved to the south of France in order to increase his training in the mountains.

    The Frenchman indicated that he felt good as the Tour heads into the Alps on stage 15, where he will hope to defend his position overall.

    "The legs are improving. That gives me confidence before Verbier. I've progressed a lot in the mountains. In a three-week race it is different, I will be need to go to my maximum."

  • Breukink disappointed in Rabobank's Tour so far

    Denis Menchov (Rabobank) at the end of Tour de France stage six in Barcelona
    Article published:
    July 19, 2009, 12:40 BST
    Susan Westemeyer

    Looking to Menchov and Garate in final week

    Rabobank came into the Tour de France with high hopes of Denis Menchov making the final podium and Oscar Freire winning sprints. But two-thirds of the way through the race, Giro d'Italia winner Menchov is 5:02 minutes down in 29th place, and Freire's best finish was second in Barcelona.

    Compounding their disappointing tour thus far, the Dutch team once again missed being in the successful escape group Saturday and it was little surprise that directeur sportif Erik Breukink told de Telegraaf, “I'm pretty pissed.”

    “Today is just a big mistake and bad for us,” he said on the team's website, “In an escape of thirteen men, we just have to [be there].”

    The lack of success leads to even more pressure on the riders acknowledged Breukink: “You could see it again today. They are not riding relaxed, but anxiously and wanting to force too much.”

    If Freire had won in Barcelona “the pressure would have been completely gone.” But Thor Hushovd of Cervelo TestTeam proved stronger than the former world champion on the climb to the finish line in Spain.

    As there are only two more stages in this year's Tour suited to Freire, the team will now look to Menchov and Juan Manuel Garate. “The latter is riding well. That may be the good way to go.” Breukink not giving up on the Russian, though. “He makes a better impression now than at the beginning of the Tour. I think he is looking forward to the Alps.”

  • Boonen attributes Tour abandon to virus

    Tom Boonen (Quick Step) is having the curse of the Belgian champion's jersey this Tour.
    Article published:
    July 19, 2009, 15:19 BST
    Gregor Brown

    Belgian champion and former Tour green jersey quits

    Tom Boonen abandoned the Tour de France Sunday morning in Pontarlier due to the effects of a virus. He said it stayed with him since the start of the race, through 14 stages.

    "I was a wreck after yesterday's stage and last night I think the virus came out. I am dead sick now," Belgian champion Boonen said this morning.

    Boonen arrived at the start of stage 15 with his Quick Step teammates and talked to the press outside the team bus. The stage to Verbier should be one of the decisive stages for the Tour's overall classification.

    "I threw up three times on the bus this morning. I have pain in my muscles, in my head and when I stand up I feel dizzy," he said.

    "During this Tour I was never bad, but I never felt at my best."

    Boonen has six career stage wins at the Tour and the 2007 green sprinter's jersey. The highest he placed this year was 16th in stage 11 to Saint-Fargeau.

    "You have to be 100% prepared for the Tour," said team director, Wilfried Peeters. "Even with someone who is in perfect order it is difficult to perform for three weeks, but Tom did not have the physical or mental preparations."

    Boonen tested positive for cocaine April 27 and the Tour de France organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) prohibited him from starting its race. A French court ordered the race to allow his participation only one day before the start in Monaco.

  • Vande Velde may turn attention to Wiggins

    Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Slipstream) fought his way back to the leaders but couldn't hold the pace when the race splintered on Verbier
    Article published:
    July 19, 2009, 18:30 BST
    Daniel Benson

    Tough day for American at Verbier

    Christian Vande Velde may have relinquished his role as Garmin co-captain after the American had a disappointing day in the mountains on stage 15 from Pontarlier to Verbier. Vande Velde finished 2:41 behind Alberto Contador and dropped to 12th overall, 3:59 behind the Spaniard and new yellow jersey wearer.

    However, with his teammate and friend, Bradley Wiggins, sitting third in the general classification, Vande Velde’s role in the team may shift from co-leader to super domestique. "I don’t think today was a step back for me but I thought I’d do better than I did. It’s the perfect situation that the team isn’t just relying on me. I can be the best teammate that Wiggins could ask for."

    Vande Velde, who finished fifth last year, was distanced on the early stages of the final climb towards Verbier before briefly rallying and catching the lead group. However he had no answer to the accelerations that followed within the final five kilometres and was passed by several riders before the finish.

    "I really wanted to put it all out there on the road but I went above my capabilities at the bottom when I was with David [Zabriskie] and Bradley [Wiggins]. At the same time I tried so I can’t kick myself for not trying," Vande Velde told Cyclingnews from the team bus.

    On the early slopes of the final climb Garmin moved towards the front of the bunch as the day’s earlier break began to disintegrate up ahead. "We knew there were switchbacks and wanted to stay out of trouble and you saw a rider like Carlos Sastre is so laid back and it took him time to get back on. In my mind I didn’t want to waste energy. Our plan was to keep us out of trouble for the first few kilometres."

    Despite conceding time to his main rivals, Vande Velde remained optimistic for the final week, where, by his own analysis, he should perform better. "This last week is going to be brutal, anyone within five minutes could...

  • Schleck established as Contador's number one Tour rival

    Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)
    Article published:
    July 19, 2009, 18:45 BST
    Gregor Brown

    White jersey and fifth overall, but Andy Schleck aims for win

    Luxembourg's Andy Schleck passed a crucial test on Saturday at the 2009 Tour de France. He distanced his rivals and finished second only to Alberto Contador on the 15th stage to Verbier. Contador took the leader's yellow jersey and Schleck moved into fifth overall.

    Contador "had the yellow jersey in Paris-Nice and he lost it there. The race will not be over until the Champs Élysées," Schleck (Saxo Bank) said.

    Schleck was the only rider to follow the attack of Contador with 5.6 kilometres remaining to the mountaintop finish in Verbier. He trailed most of the climb at 20 seconds with a group of favourites another 20 seconds behind.

    Contador proved strongest to finish with 43 seconds over Schleck and another 20 seconds over Vincenzo Nibali, Andy's brother and teammate Fränk, Bradley Wiggins and Carlos Sastre. Andy, 24, took the young riders' jersey and is 2:26 behind Contador.

    "He's a bit stronger than me, but he will have some pressure on him in the next days. It will not be a piece of cake for him," said Andy Schleck.

    Contador won the Tour de France in 2007 and his Astana teammate Lance Armstrong won from 1999 to 2005. Schleck trails Armstrong, who is second overall, at 1:49.

    "I don't think it is going to be Armstrong who will arrive behind Contador," said Schleck.

    The Tour continues after its second rest day tomorrow. Tuesday and Wednesday are both mountain stages through the Alps. Thursday will see a 40.5-kilometre time trial in Annecy before Saturday's stage, which finishes atop Mont Ventoux.

    Schleck will have to use the mountain stages to distance his rivals, who are all strong in individual time trials. Wiggins is third overall at 1:46 and Andreas Klöden fourth at 2:17.

  • Sastre loses more time to rivals

    Carlos Sastre (Cervelo TestTeam)
    Article published:
    July 19, 2009, 19:04 BST
    Daniel Benson

    Spaniard content after brave fight on Verbier

    Carlos Sastre lost more valuable time to his rivals as he continued his bid to retain his Tour de France crown on today’s 207 kilometre stage from Pontarlier to Verbier. On the lowers slopes of the climb up to Verbier, Sastre was unable to live with the brutal accelerations set first by Saxo Bank and then Alberto Contador.

    However, the Spaniard set his own steady pace and successfully rejoined a lead group that contained Bradley Wiggins, Lance Armstrong and Cadel Evans, before putting in a brave attack with Fränk Schleck, Wiggins, Evans and Vincenzo Nibali.

    "It was a hard day and it was really fast. It was more or less like I expected. I know this Tour de France has been difficult," Sastre said at the finish.

    "I rode the best I could. I would have liked to have had the same explosiveness but I didn’t. I am more of a diesel and I like to go at my own steady pace. That’s what I did and I was able to come back. I was there in the front. It was a difficult stage after almost one week of flat stages and this kind of finish is good for me. But I recognise that some riders were stronger than me today."

    To date Sastre has had a less than perfect Tour defence. He lost 48 seconds to Contador in the opening time trial in Monaco. This was compounded by a 1:37 deficit to the Spaniard in the team time trial. However, Sastre, who won the Tour last year with Saxo Bank-CSC, was quick to praise the work of his team. "I used all my teammates today, they were close to me until the last important moments. We are content, it’s been a successful Tour de France for us," he said.

    Sastre has been relatively shy with the media during the race, even with the Spanish press at times, but he gave an insight into his possibly motives. "It’s been a really strange Tour. Everyone is talking about Contador and Armstrong and the Schleck brothers, as if they’re the only ones doing the race. You saw some other riders...

  • Wiggins takes another step towards Tour win

    Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) climbed his way into third place overall.
    Article published:
    July 19, 2009, 20:28 BST
    Gregor Brown

    Brit third overall after first Alpine stage

    Bradley Wiggins took a huge step towards winning the Tour de France Sunday in the Swiss Alps. The Garmin rider left Lance Armstrong and other rivals behind to finish fifth on top of the Verbier climb alongside last year's Tour winner Carlos Sastre.

    He is currently third overall behind Alberto Contador and Armstrong with six days to race, including a time trial likely to suit his ability.

    "Everyone keeps talking to me about what's ahead, but that does not help my concentration. I just go day by day. How can you think three days ahead when you've got two days before that? That is how you crack and cock things up," said Wiggins.

    Wiggins concentrated on keeping in contact with the Tour's favourites the end of stage from Pontarlier to Verbier. It finished with an 8.8-kilometre climb up the Verbier, a climb that had the potential to affect Wiggins' sixth place overall.

    Contador (Astana) and Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) each attacked solo and rode clear on the climb, but Wiggins stayed with a chase group of eight. Wiggins rode with teammate Christian Vande Velde, Astana's Armstrong and Andreas Klöden, Liquigas' Vincenzo Nibali and Roman Kreuziger, Sastre (Cervélo), Cadel Evans (Silence) and Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank).

    Wiggins and Fränk Schleck each attacked to help form a smaller group with just three kilometres remaining. Nibali and later Sastre joined the two. Finishing with the group, Wiggins gained enough time on Armstrong and Klöden to jump from sixth to third overall.

    "You just got to ask yourself all the time, 'If it is hurting you, God knows what it is doing to the others."

    Contador won the stage and took the leader's yellow jersey. The Spaniard leads by 1:37 over teammate Armstrong and is 1:46 ahead of Wiggins.

    Tomorrow is the second rest day of the Tour de France. There are three more mountain stages left to race, but if Wiggins can remain with the favourites on those...

  • Cancellara flies the Swiss flag in day's break

    Swiss national champion, Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank),rode strongly in his home country
    Article published:
    July 19, 2009, 21:21 BST
    Daniel Benson

    Swiss national champion assists teammate Schleck on final climb

    Fabian Cancellara proudly put his Swiss national road champion's jersey on display at the head of affairs as the Tour de France crossed over into his homeland of Switzerland during Sunday's stage 15. Cancellara, Switzerland's newly crowned national road champion and former yellow jersey holder, made his way into the race-long break of 10 riders and later worked for teammate Andy Schleck in the stage's decisive finale.

    The break was caught by the peloton on the lower slopes of the final climb to Verbier where Cancellera then turned teammate for Andy Schleck and briefly began to set the pace at the front. Schleck, however, was forced to chase on his own after Alberto Contador attacked and soloed towards his first stage win and yellow jersey in this year's race. Schleck finished second, 43 seconds down, and now sits fifth, 2:26 behind Contador.

    "Today was the first real day in the mountains. We saw a battle of man versus man and in the end Contador was the strongest. But we [Saxo Bank] are in the heat of the battle and we know that the Schleck brothers are strong. We have to ride as we've done throughout this Tour and hopefully we'll get more out of it in the hard mountains," Cancellara told Cyclingnews at the finish.

    Cancellara, who formed part of Carlos Sastre's winning Tour team in 2008, believes that while Contador is strong, Saxo Bank must remain focused on their strengths. "Alberto is strong, we saw that today and he showed that he's the strongest. The team did what it had to do and we put pressure on Contador as best we could. We think that's what we need to do for the rest of the race.

    "Now we'll look to the final week and for a good rest day tomorrow. Today I spent a lot of time at the front but I'm happy. The race passed through Switzerland and it was a beautiful moment that was very special."