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Tour de France Cycling News for July 24, 2007

Date published:
July 24, 2007, 1:00 BST
  • Merckx's "great experience" in cycling

    Axel Merckx
    Article published:
    July 24, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Gregor Brown in Loudenvielle

    By Gregor Brown in Loudenvielle Axel Merckx is close to ending his 15-year career as a professional...

    By Gregor Brown in Loudenvielle

    Axel Merckx is close to ending his 15-year career as a professional rider but he insists on enjoying the final moments. The 34 year-old Belgian is looking forward to the five days remaining of the 94th Tour de France but he is happy to reflect on his proudest moments, including riding with Floyd Landis as race leader through Paris.

    "I know this is the last time and I absolutely want to make the best out of it, and make it to Paris, for sure," commented Merckx on Monday morning to Cyclingnews, the day before the Tour's rest day in Pau. He made the switch this last winter from Phonak to T-Mobile and he used his domestique abilities to ensure the team's youngster Gerdemann was in yellow with a stage win on that hot day to Le Grand-Bornand.

    "It has been fifty-fifty for T-Mobile at the Tour but you always remember the good parts and the good memories," the son of Eddy continued. "Having the yellow already with Linus, who is only 24 years-old, was really exciting. It was beyond our expectation. We have to acknowledge his accomplishment and look forward to a great future from him. ... It was for sure my favourite moment of this Tour; that day was the best moment of the Tour."

    He is hoping there could still be a chance for him to grasp that coveted Tour stage to add to a palmarès that includes wins in the Dauphiné Libéré, the Giro d'Italia, the Belgian Championships and a Bronze in the 2004 Olympics. "I will try. I know that yesterday was fast and I am short of being with the best in the climbs. I know it will be tough but I will keep trying to see if I have a bit of luck to be in a good break.

    "Over the years there have been some ups and downs that is life in general, and in cycling particular. I have had some tough moments but some really good moments here too, but I think that is the case every year in the Tour." The best came in 2006. "Riding with...

  • Barredo riding on empty

    Carlos Barredo (Quickstep-Innergetic)
    Article published:
    July 24, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Gregor Brown in Loudenvielle

    By Gregor Brown in Loudenvielle Carlos Barredo paid his dues in the first two weeks of the 94th Tour...

    By Gregor Brown in Loudenvielle

    Carlos Barredo paid his dues in the first two weeks of the 94th Tour de France by helping team-mates Steegmans, Boonen and then Vasseur won stages and Sunday the 26 year-old Spaniard had his chance to go on an escape. Although riding on "empty" and then getting caught on the Plateau de Beille he was happy to have had the chance. "I did well yesterday but right after the start I was feeling hungry on the first climb," commented Barredo to Cyclingnews Monday morning.

    "I was feeling 'empty' because the first hour and a half is always the fastest, and I did not eat anything. After that, my entire day was bad. However, was good because I joined the escape." He kept going but suffered when the day hit its climax and he could no longer stay with his compatriots in the escape, Colom, Txurruka, Pérez and Gutiérrez.

    "It was important to try my chance to get into an escape," Barredo continued in his friendly tone. "I will try again. ... I am tired but the others are tired too." Maybe he is encouraged by the spectators. "Yesterday my friends came out to watch and cheer me on because it was close to my region [of Asturias]. Also today there are my friends and family."

    He will enjoy the rest day with his Quick.Step mates, who have made a victory haul totalling four. The day will have to include riding which was a lesson Barredo learned in the 2006 Vuelta a España. "Normally if I try well on the rest day then my legs go well but if not then they don't go well. Last year, at the Vuelta a España there were two days of rest where I hardly rode; I only did 30 minutes and the next day I was tired. If I train well Tuesday [in and around Pau] I believe that Wednesday I can go, more or less, well.

    "I went out for three hours with Garate last time but I don't know for tomorrow [laughs - ed.]. I think that tomorrow the pain might be heightened and I believe it will be...

  • Wegelius bets on Rasmussen

    Article published:
    July 24, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Gregor Brown in Loudenvielle

    By Gregor Brown in Loudenvielle Charley Wegelius keeps plugging away in the 2007 Tour de France for...

    By Gregor Brown in Loudenvielle

    Charley Wegelius keeps plugging away in the 2007 Tour de France for himself, Team Liquigas and for his mom watching in Britain. The team's ace Pozzato has scored a powerful win with the finish in Autun while climber Manuel Beltrán continues in the general classification battle, meanwhile the 29 year-old Wegelius is hoping for a chance for an escape but is also keeping an eye on the team's overall position.

    Two weeks have passed in the world largest bike race, but the affable Brit hasn't yet lost his good-humoured edge when the microphone was set to record. "Get that out of my face," was the comical greeting by Wegelius Monday morning in Foix. When asked about the stage ahead, he said, "I don't have a crystal ball but if I had legs like I had lately then I don't think I will be there [in escapes]. I had this really special plan to get into breaks after the Alps but I think that about 150 other guys had the same plan too... Joking aside, I will try to get into the break but you know I have to do what I can with the legs that I got," he continued to Cyclingnews.

    "And then I will be the second guy for the team classification, which nowadays is very important." The team is currently 11th in the rankings. He is followed by fans around the world but also by family, including his mom Jane and girlfriend Camellia, who call and check on him regularly. "My mom watches, my girlfriend and my father in-law, who has never watched a bicycle race in his life. None of them knew about cycling before but they have become experts, which is a bit awkward because they start asking me why I don't do this or that.

    "My dad rang me and said that he couldn't believe that the flat day was the hardest day in the race, so I had to explain all about crosswinds and things like that." Wegelius makes his home in Italy like the current race leader, Michael Rasmussen of Rabobank, which he tips as the eventual...

  • Kirchen happy with second

    Kirchen showed better form
    Article published:
    July 24, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Brecht Decaluwé in Loudenvielle - Le Louron

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Loudenvielle - Le Louron Luxembourger Kim Kirchen held tough on a brutal day...

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Loudenvielle - Le Louron

    Luxembourger Kim Kirchen held tough on a brutal day in the Pyrénées, where he was one of the last survivors of the breakaway and took second behind the rampaging Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov. The result gave his German T-Mobile another high on a rollercoaster Tour which saw the team hold yellow, lose its GC leader Michael Rogers to a crash and another rider, Patrick Sinkewitz receive notice of a antidoping positive test for testosterone.

    The team's replacement GC-rider, Kirchen was riding in 10th overall until he had a rough first day in the Pyrénées on Sunday, where he ran into difficulty on the climb towards the Plateau de Beille. "Kim [Kirchen] didn't have a great day yesterday," directeur sportif Rolf Aldag said to Cyclingnews. "He was still there in the first group, even after guys like Popovych dropped back but then they hit the last climb with full gas after the long downhill and that killed him," Aldag reflected on Sunday's stage.

    The Luxembourgian bounced back from his setback and managed to join the early escape on Monday. In that big breakaway group the unpredictable Alexandre Vinokourov featured as well, and on the hors categorie Col de Peyresourde, the final climb of the day, 'Vino' accelerated a couple of times and dropped David Arroyo, Kirchen and eventually also Juan Jose Cobo and Haimar Zubeldia (13th in GC).

    Kirchen didn't try to follow the accelerations from the Kazakh powerhouse and maintained his own rhythm. Just before the top of the Peyresourde he came back on Zubeldia. The duo wasn't strong enough to catch Vinokourov, forcing them to sprint for second place. Kirchen started the sprint and easily held off the Euskaltel rider.

    At the finish line Cyclingnews asked Kirchen if he was happy with a second place. "I had very good legs and was very concentrated and I think I couldn't do better today,"...

  • Disco relentless in pursuit of seconds

    Alberto Contador tried everything
    Article published:
    July 24, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Brecht Decaluwé in Loudenville - Le Louron

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Loudenville - Le Louron During the stage to Loudenville the Discovery Channel...

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Loudenville - Le Louron

    During the stage to Loudenville the Discovery Channel team showed that they are keen to take time back on yellow jersey Michael Rasmussen before the ultimate time trial. The American team doesn't seem to be confident that Contador can make up the time of 2'23" between the two riders, and launched a series of relentless attacks on the yellow jersey to try and shake Rasmussen's hold.

    While Levi Leipheimer didn't offer himself up there was another team-mate in what was left of the peloton. Yaroslav Popovych attacked on the Col de Peyresourde in what seemed to be an attempt to disturb the Rabobank teamwork. Cyclingnews asked the Ukrainian if that was his goal when he attacked. "Yes, I spoke with Contador that I would try to make Rasmussen's team work," Popovych said.

    In the end his attack didn't result in a panic reaction as Boogerd and Menchov maintained their own pace. A few minutes later 'Popo' was caught back by the yellow jersey group that immediately dropped the former Giro d'Italia podium finisher. "It was a good day for us and we will try to do it again. I think the team did a great job," Popovych explained.

    Last year the absence of Lance Armstrong left the team from Johan Bruyneel without a real leader. As a result the team wasn't performing well in a whole. This year everybody in the team seems to be back in fighting spirits. "Last year was a really strange year for the team without Lance but now's another thing," Popovych confirmed that the Disco-train is back on the rails.

  • Rabobank passes the test

    Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
    Article published:
    July 24, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Brecht Decaluwé in Loudenvielle - Le Louron

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Loudenvielle - Le Louron In the first mountains stage after the relapse from...

    Menchov assumes domestique role for Rabobank

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Loudenvielle - Le Louron

    In the first mountains stage after the relapse from GC-favourites Cadel Evans, Alexandre Vinokourov, Alejandro Valverde, ... it was clear that the battle for the yellow jersey is a battle between current leader Michael Rasmussen and young Alberto Contador. The Rabobank team defended their position very well on the climbs leading up towards the ultimate climb and there - on the Col de Peyresourde - the pair of slender climbers battled it out.

    "Boogerd set the pace on the penultimate climb and when Menchov was done with his work on the last climb Boogerd took over again," Rabobank's directeur sportif Erik Breukink said. Former team leader Denis Menchov hasn't been going well in this Tour and he was ordered to be in the breakaway today to anticipate on a Discovery Channel coup.

    "We knew that it could happen. We had Menchov up front so we certainly had someone if Discovery Channel attacked," Breukink explained to Cyclingnews. The Russian Rabobank rider had a chance on the stage win but he might have given a sign to the team to inform them he wasn't going too well. "No, we waited to see how he went for the stage but as soon as we needed him we asked him to drop back to Rasmussen. Boogerd came alone and we needed a bit of everything - like water bottles - and the Peyresourde was coming up," the former number three of the Tour de France 1990 said.

    On the Peyresourde Popovych tried to launch an offensive but he couldn't worry the three-men Rabobank train. When Contador accelerated Rasmussen reacted immediately, and in the end only Contador's team-mate Levi Leipheimer lost time on Rasmussen. "They play the card of Contador now, he's their leader, that's clear now. They [Discovery Channel] are not confident with the current gap and I guess they want to get closer before the last time trial.

    "For us it was...

  • Vinokourov restores pride with second win in three days

    Alexander Vinokourov (Astana)
    Article published:
    July 24, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Shane Stokes, with additional reporting by Gregor Brown

    By Shane Stokes, with additional reporting by Gregor Brown Alexandre Vinokourov has long had the...

    By Shane Stokes, with additional reporting by Gregor Brown

    Alexandre Vinokourov has long had the reputation as a scrappy, determined and driven competitor and the Astana team leader underlined that on Monday when he soloed to victory in Loudenvielle-Le Louron. Monday saw 'Vino' bounce back to a emphatic stage win just one day after the disappointment of a disastrous stage 14, where he lost nearly 29 minutes.

    The Kazakh was in the action from the drop of the flag and infiltrated a strong break which pulled over eight minutes clear of yellow jersey Michael Rasmussen and the other overall contenders.

    Vinokourov used the break as a platform to launch his attacked on the final climb of the day, the Col du Peyresourde, where he shed breakaway companions such as Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel – Euskadi), Juan Jose Cobo (Saunier Duval – Prodir) and Kim Kirchen (T-Mobile) and hitting the summit well clear.

    A fast descent took him down into the finish, where he hit the line 51 seconds ahead of Kirchen and Zubeldia. Cobo was a further seven seconds back, while maillot jaune Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) and the Dane's closest challenger Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) came in 6'27" down.

    "I was very motivated to show I have good condition and I also wanted to motivate my team," he said after the stage. "I was here to win in Paris but the first week was very unlucky for me [due to his bad crash – ed.]. I made a lot of effort to recover and then I changed my plans. But it is life and I don't have any regrets."

    Vinokourov's strong time trial gave him an outside chance of taking yellow but his body didn't co-operate with his ambitions on Sunday. He was asked about that experience. "Yesterday was a very bad day," he said. "I was dropped quite soon and then in my head something went. So I...