- Article published:
- July 9, 2009, 18:30
- Richard Moore
Cervélo targeted Barcelona stage for their sprinter
Thor Hushovd (CervÃ©lo Test Team) broke Mark Cavendish’s stranglehold on the bunch sprints, winning on the uphill drag into Barcelona ahead of another rider who specializes in these tougher finishes, Oscar Freire (Rabobank).
With victory the Norwegian also closed the gap in the green jersey competition to just one point, with Cavendish holding on, just. It was a stage that his CervÃ©lo team had identified as suiting their sprinter before the Tour even started, as Hushovd revealed after the stage.
"I have never been here, but our sports director Alex Sans Vega is from Barcelona, and he came up here in the car with a camera before the Tour started. We looked at the footage this morning. That gave me a little idea of the road towards the finish. Apart from that, I won a stage at the bottom of the climb in the Tour of Catalunya."
"Yesterday, I was a bit frustrated because our plan for the sprint didn't work out," continued Hushovd, who, like the other sprinters, had been thwarted on Wednesday by Thomas Voeckler’s stage-winning attack.
"We didn't sprint for the win [on Wednesday], and of course I want to be up there for the green jersey. So we didn't have a good day yesterday. But I still know that we have really good guys here and when everything works, we probably have one of the best lead-out trains in the world. We had more luck today."
While Cavendish continues to insist that he will not contest intermediate sprints, with his sole aim being to finish in Paris rather than to win the green jersey, Hushovd suggested that his main rival might not stick to his word.
"I think that if we are all together and there is a sprint up the road, then he will go for it," he said. "Anyway, with the mountains are coming. In the first week, [Carlos] Sastre [the CervÃ©lo leader and defending champion] gave me the chance to do what I wanted, so now I will try to support him as well as I can. Of course, the green jersey is really important, but we also have to help Sastre as much as we can."
Hushovd said that he expected the fight for the green jersey to go all the way to Paris, with Cavendish having "changed as a rider. He is now much better in the mountains. Today we went really fast in the beginning of the race, and he didn't get dropped.
"It's good to win," added Hushovd. "This victory is important to the team, as it shows we [deserve to be at the Tour despite] being a continental pro team. It’s also important to me because I show the team that they're right to give me so many guys – and that's also why I want to give something back for Carlos, to help him as much as I can. Of course, I cannot pull [on] the last climb for him, but I will be able to give him a hand before."
While Hushovd admitted he was "really motivated" to try and win on a stage that he knew suited him, the CervÃ©lo Test Team’s manager, Thomas Campana, said that it also opened up the competition for green. "We talked from the beginning [of the Tour] about Barcelona," said Campani. "It’s clear that when the road goes uphill it’s very difficult for anyone to go around Thor Hushovd.
"It’s an important win for us, and for Carlos, going into the mountains; it’s important for the group," continued Campana. "Now everything is possible. There are plenty of stages coming where I expect [Hushovd] to be up the front and to score more points now. It will be an open game [for green] now."
- Tour de France
- Article published:
- July 9, 2009, 18:51
- Richard Moore
Green jersey less of a priority than victory on the Champs-Élysées
Mark Cavendish sounded like a stuck record as he made his way through the mixed zone at the end of stage six of the Tour de France, telling different journalists different versions of the same thing: "I’m not going to fight for the green jersey – I only want to reach Paris."
The Columbia-HTC sprinter placed seventeenth on the stage, which was just good enough to hold on to the green jersey – by one point from the day’s winner, Thor Hushovd (Cervélo Test Team).
It wasn’t a stage that Cavendish and his team had earmarked, with the uphill finish far better suited to Hushovd and Oscar Freire (Rabobank), who placed second. And so there wasn’t the familiar sight at the head of the peloton of the Columbia train, setting it up for the race’s fastest finisher – so long as the road is flat.
"I knew I wasn’t going to match Thor and Oscar in this type of finish," said Cavendish. "That’s why we didn’t ride today. The other sprint days should suit me better. We’ll see.
"I’m still not going to sacrifice my chances of reaching Paris for the green jersey," he continued. "I want to reach Paris and win on the Champs Élysées, that’s my target. If green comes, it comes. But I’m not going to go for intermediate sprints."
With the mountain stages ahead, Cavendish was asked how he would approach days when his priority isn’t to win but just to survive. "The same [way] as the other guys," he said, "it’s just that we’re all going at different speeds."
Now riding his third Tour, he said this one represents his best chance of finishing: "My chances of reaching Paris are better than they’ve ever been before. I still feel good after six stages."
Cavendish’s Australian teammate, Michael Rogers, fell hard during the stage. He finished and was taken to hospital for X-rays, though Cavendish seemed resigned to losing him. "We’ve lost Michael Rogers," he said, "which is a blow to our lead out train, and a blow not just from a sporting point of view, but for our morale, too. He’s a great guy and has just come back to the Tour from his horrific crash two years ago. To be cursed by such back luck is not nice. I just hope he’s okay."
- Tour de France
- Article published:
- July 9, 2009, 19:11
- Daniel Simms
Crash victim escapes broken bones, will start stage seven
Team Columbia-HTC's Michael Rogers crashed heavily during the rainy stage to Barcelona on Thursday. After the Australian limped to the finish line some 13 minutes behind stage winner Thor Hushovd, most were speculating his Tour de France was over.
The three-time world champion was lucky to escape without any broken bones, and should be fit to start stage seven on Friday, according to his team.
Rogers was positioned behind Heinrich Haussler on a roundabout when the Cervélo rider slipped on the slick, wet road and crashed, leaving Rogers with no place to go but down. Garmin-Slipstream's Tyler Farrar also went down in the same crash, as did several others.
It was just one of many crashes on the stage, yet remarkably all riders who started the 181.5km stage finished eventually. Kenny Van Hummel and Jonathan Hivert (Skil-Shimano) were the last men to come across the line, with Van Hummel assuming the mantle of "lanterne rouge" as last man on GC thanks to today's finish.
- Article published:
- July 9, 2009, 19:39
- Richard Moore
Tour goal remains a stage victory
When David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream) attacked on stage six from Girona to Barcelona there were echoes of the previous day's stage, when Thomas Voeckler (Bbox-Bouygues Telecom) jumped clear of his breakaway companions to win alone.
Millar went earlier - with 29km still to race - but he almost pulled off an unexpected win, before finally the wide, straight boulevards into Barcelona, not to mention the uphill finish, ended his bid for victory and he was swamped by the peloton almost within sight of the line.
"I hadn't planned to attack in the first week, so to come so close on this stage is gratifying," said Millar as he recovered at the finish. The Scot lives near Girona, so he is familiar with the roads that featured on a stage that he helped to animate by attacking after 46km, with Sylvain Chavanel (Quickstep) and Stephane Auge (Cofidis) joining him.
Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) bridged the gap later, as the break's lead started to come down - but for much of the stage Millar, tenth overall at the start of the day, was yellow jersey on the road. He ended it with the consolation of a trip to the podium to collect the award for most aggressive rider.
It was as the advantage of the leading quartet dropped to around a minute that Millar made his move. What prompted it? "Stupidity," he said. "It was the coast road, I've done it so many times in training, I know it so well, and I just thought 'I can have fun here.' Before I knew it I was off on my own.
"Then it became a game of cat-and-mouse," Millar continued. "It seemed it was destined for failure, but then I thought 'Nah, I'll give it a go.' I was enjoying holding off the peloton for so long.
"I actually felt pretty average for most of the stage, I didn't feel in control of my effort, but I was on a wing and a prayer in the finale. I started to feel quite good but I think that was more adrenaline than anything else. I kind of made the move on emotion."
Millar admitted that there was one point when he thought he had it - as he maintained a one-minute advantage with 10km to go. "At that stage I thought it might be possible, but then I started seeing these huge boulevards and I knew the peloton had the advantage. It gave them the space to get organised, for teams to come to the front and get going. "
The huge crowds that lined the roads throughout the stage, but especially into Barcelona, were "spine tingling," said Millar. "It reminded me of the stage into Canterbury [when the Tour visited Britain in 2007 and Millar featured in a break]. Coming through Barcelona was mental. It was worth being off the front just to experience that atmosphere."
As the climb to the finish began to steepen it became apparent that it was all over for Millar. "You're so tired at that point," he said, "that when you turn round and see the peloton coming up that quick it's like someone's unplugged the power. You go from being fired up with adrenaline to having your power cut. You die immediately."
The Scot added that his ambition at this Tour remains a stage victory. "Next week I'd like to win a stage," he said.
It would be important for his team, too. "We're the eternal second," said Millar, one of the four riders - Christian Vande Velde, Bradley Wiggins and David Zabriskie being the others - who contributed to the team's second place to Astana in Tuesday's team time trial.
"We have to get that monkey [of not winning] off our back," he continued. "I want to win a stage here, that's what I've come here for. But for the team, we're not the new kid on the block any more. It's now down to results more than just the story of us being around, of just existing."
- Article published:
- July 9, 2009, 20:23
- Hedwig Kröner
Spring Classics revelation 'only learning'
Although he wasn't able to help his teammate Thor Hushovd when he took the stage in Barcelona on Thursday, Australian-German rider Heinrich Haussler is a happy man at this Tour de France.
It's the third French Grand Tour for the Cervélo TestTeam rider, and although he has been one of the revelations this spring - notably finishing second in both Milano-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders - he is still content being "only" a teammate for his leaders at the race.
After the team time trial in Montpellier, Cyclingnews asked Haussler what exactly his role was at this Tour. "I'm really here for Thor [Hushovd], to help him to win a stage and get the green jersey. I'm not his last lead-out man - that's Brett Lancaster. I am here to learn. I'm only 25 and I'm not that experienced in leading a sprint out."
The rider who already has stages of the Vuelta, the Dauphiné Libéré and Paris-Nice on his palmarès, is thus working for his team leaders Hushovd and Carlos Sastre. "We've started out this Tour rather calm, concentrating on the team time trial. Now, we'll have to see how much back we are on the favourites and give it full gas - for Carlos in the overall classification, but also in the sprints for Thor."
Asked if he was going to look for his own chances, Haussler said, "Maybe in one or two years - maybe then the team will ride for me."
The 25-year-old knew that even though he was young, he wasn't a rookie anymore, either. But he still maintained that a slow build-up for the Tour was the better option. "I still really need to learn a lot. I don't have a problem with it. Lots of people ask me when I will be allowed to ride for myself - but it doesn't matter to me now. That's alright."
- Article published:
- July 9, 2009, 20:52
- Laura Weislo
Rainy stage to Barcelona causes havoc
The famous Dutch footballer Johan Cruyff paid a visit to the Rabobank team on Thursday morning and told the riders these prophetic words: 'If it rains, it better rain hard', according to Laurens ten Dam's Twitter feed.
The rain was not hard enough to wash away days of accumulated diesel oil and dirt, and the drizzle turned the smooth Spanish roads into a skating rink for the sixth stage to Barcelona. The stage profile, with its short, sharp climbs in the last 20km, should not have caused big gaps in the peloton, but with a little water added to the mix, some riders literally slipped their way down the general classification.
Ten Dam was one of many riders to fall off during the 181.5km stage. He hurt his back in a massive pile-up in the final 10km which also claimed the large majority of the BBox Bouygues Telecom team which was already battered from the fall in the team time trial.
Rider after rider limped across the line with blood dripping, kits shredded, body aching, yet miraculously all appeared to have come out fit enough to start Friday's stage to Andorra.
The pre-race favourites for the GC were not immune to a little pavement surfing on the bacon-grease roads. The biggest loser was Michael Rogers, who limped in 13:14 down, but will still start Friday's stage.
Carlos Sastre fell early on in the race but was unaffected by the crash. His teammates José Angel Marchante and Heinrich Haussler also fell. Haussler, never one to be outdone, crashed twice in one stage.
"I went down on a slick spot coming out of a round-about," Haussler explained of the crash which also brought down Columbia-HTC's Michael Rogers and George Hincapie. "It was just so wet there, my front wheel just slid out."
"I took a lot of risks to catch back to the front group to try to help Thor [Hushovd] in the sprint, and then I crashed again when a huge crash took out 30 riders. I don't care, though, I'm just glad Thor won."
Behind Hushovd and the 48 riders who managed to finish with or near the front group, riders who fell or were held up by crashes straggled in over the next 15 minutes.
Denis Menchov, Rabobank's now beleaguered leader, was held up by a crash involving Tom Boonen in the finale, and lost another 1:02 to his rivals to push him down to 64th overall.
Columbia-HTC's Hincapie was coming back from a flat tire when he crashed with 20k to go. He said on his Twitter feed that he has "never been so scared on the bike as I was today."
The slightest bend in the road became an insurmountable obstacle for some. Quick Step's Boonen told Sporza he "never touched the brakes" before crashing hard to the ground in the final 10km. Caisse d'Epargne's David Arroyo also described the same scenario where one rider touching the brakes caused a massive pile-up behind.
Lampre's bruised World Champion Alessandro Ballan, still smarting from the crash in the team time trial, attributed his seventh place finish to the fact he was afraid to risk too much in the slick finale.
"The finish was good for my characteristics, but I didn’t want to risk too much before the last climb because my bike was slipping on the wet road and I had seen so many crashes," said Ballan.
Lampre's Simon Spilak crashed twice, Marcin Sapa once. Angelo Furlan, still smarting from the TTT crash, finished over eight minutes down.
The list goes on and on. With two weeks still to ride in this Tour de France and many teams already reaching the bottom of the first aid kit, it's amazing that there have been just three abandons from this year's race: Jurgen Van De Walle (Silence-Lotto), Piet Rooijakkers (Skil-Shimano) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank) all abandoned with broken bones this week.
The rest will soldier on to Andorra looking as if they'd paid a visit inside the bullfighting ring at the Plaza de Toros Monumental in Barcelona.
- Tour de France
- Article published:
- July 9, 2009, 21:20
- Brecht Decaluwé
Criticism by television commentator leads to standoff
Behind the yellow Tour de France curtains there's a battle going on between Johan Bruyneel, the Belgian manager of the Astana team from Lance Armstrong, and fellow Belgian Michel Wuyts, the iconic commentator of the Flemish sports channel Sporza. As a result Bruyneel and his Astana team are currently boycotting all Sporza journalists at the Tour de France by not allowing individual interviews.
The row came to the surface on Wednesday evening when Sporza showed footage of Lance Armstrong being asked by the team's PR-manager Philippe Maertens to ignore its journalist at the finish line in Perpignan. Armstrong didn't seem to know what was going on and said, “but these are your compatriots,” and eventually walked away.
Bruyneel explained on Thursday through his blog in the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad that Sporza wasn't the problem but their cycling commentator Michel Wuyts. According to Bruyneel, the commentator has always been negative in comments towards him, the Discovery Channel team, the Astana team and Lance Armstrong.
A sharp column written by Wuyts in a local sports magazine at the start of this year's cycling season could've been the straw that broke the camel's back. Bruyneel reposted the column (in Dutch) on his personal website and guided his followers to this post through Twitter.
The column describes the comeback from Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France in a cynical style as a show in which Armstrong rode a day ahead of the others to be in the spotlight. 'The Boss' was followed in the car by a beaming Bruyneel, 21 days in the spotlight shouldn't be taken away from a 100% honest and simple Flemish boy.
Armstrong – with lone star and longhorn - finally won on the Ventoux. The rest of the peloton, the credible riders, rode the next day in all anonimity but according to the rules. At the back of the bunch a boy who once had a sharp look in his eyes is struggling, Alberto Contador's climbers legs are now fragile spokes.
Aside from his fictitional column, it's hard to judge whether Wuyts possesses a completely negative attitude towards Bruyneel and all he has been linked during the past decade. For sure the journalist hasn't kept his quiet about the doping speculations surrounding Armstrong or the arrogance he feels surrounds the team led by Bruyneel. Yet on other occasions Wuyts also heralded Bruyneel and his riders.
The Sporza channel reacted on Thursday, saying that it regretted the situation and said it was willing to discuss the situation with Bruyneel. During the live coverage of stage six Wuyts didn't talk about the row although he did refer to it once while talking about Cofidis' DS Alain Deloeuil who had a hard time pronunciation Route du Sud winner Przemyslaw Niemec' name and then turned it into Njemek. “It's good that there is at least one DS with a sense of humor,” Wuyts said.
When going through the comments about the boycot in the Flemish media there are mixed emotions. Interesting to read is that some people are referring to the fact that Astana's PR manager Philippe Maertens is also working for Sporza's rival channel VTM.
It is clear that nobody is winning with this situation. The biggest loser will be the normally spoiled Flemish Sporza TV-spectators who're missing out on original Astana comments as four of the team's riders are featuring in the current top-5 of the Tour de France.
- Article published:
- July 9, 2009, 21:31
- Daniel Benson
50 riders subjected to additional scrutiny even before Tour's start
When the UCI announced they were to work with the AFLD at this year’s Tour de France, a ripple of quiet applause went through cycling’s echelons. Yet despite this step and the implementation of the most sophisticated testing ever seen in the Tour, it is possible that micro-dosing of EPO could go undetected by the biological passport.
Anne Gripper, head of the UCI’s anti-doping programme was at the Tour until Sunday, collaborating with the AFLD in order to make sure that the competition testing in this year’s race went as smoothly as possible. Gripper also met with the IAF (International Athletics Federation) in their Monaco base to discuss the full implementation of the biological passport.
For Gripper and the UCI though, this year should see testing that’s far more comprehensive than in 2008, when six positive tests were uncovered during and after the race. Along with a ‘focussed’ testing programme, which the UCI ran during a five-week period before the race on a selected batch of fifty riders, cycling’s governing body will test riders during the Tour for a number of substances and blood manipulation.
“As well as the focussed pre-competition testing already completed we’ll be carrying out in-competition testing that we agreed with the AFLD,” she told Cyclingnews. “Those two elements together will make it as robust as possible.”
Gripper added that the testing procedures are far more intelligent than last year, as along with the normal eight post-competition urine tests, the UCI will combine biological passport testing with a quick turn-around of results. This is something that was lacking in last year’s race and allowed Bernhard Kohl and Stefan Schumacher to prosper all the way to Paris.
“There’s follow up testing and we’re using a range of different types of tests in the morning and in the evening. For example we’ll test riders for human growth hormone, homologous blood transfusion and CERA in the morning [there is no point doing this after the stage], and every rider had a biological passport test on Thursday in their hotels. Biological passport testing will also be conducted on several mornings during the race”
The UCI’s new fast-track testing means that the biological passport results were available for analysis the very next day, from which point they carried out a set of further tests with daily collaboration and communication with the AFLD.
“If it’s a positive test for CERA EPO or growth hormone our results management process means that we have a very fast procedure for suspending a rider almost immediately. However if it’s a test that suggests a biological profile looks suspicious, then the procedure takes longer. We need to monitor the profile and seek further analysis.”
However recent comments from one of UCI’s independent advisors have dampened expectations that the passport is fool-proof. “Riders can’t use the passport to help them dope but the clever riders might be able to avoid things being obvious. Things like micro doses of EPO are difficult for the passport to pick up. The positive side of this is that you don’t get much performance enhancement from this, and riders will have to drastically modify their doping behaviour. The passport does detect any form of blood manipulation, though.”