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Tour de France Cycling News for July 28, 2007

Date published:
July 28, 2007, 1:00 BST
  • Willems laments failed break attempt

    Article published:
    July 28, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême Belgian Frederik Willems (Liquigas) was in the breakaway with his...

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême

    Belgian Frederik Willems (Liquigas) was in the breakaway with his compatriot Axel Merckx (T-Mobile) today, but he was taken down by a crash involving Sandy Casar and a dog.

    The Belgian explained to Cyclingnews what happened after he rolled over the finish line as last rider, 11 minutes behind winner Casar. "A dog was crossing the road, and the man in front of me [Casar] hit it. I was hidden behind him, and I never saw that dog. I only saw it when we were already down," Willems recalled.

    After the unsuccessful attempts to get into otherwise breakaways, including the successful one today, the Belgian was again unlucky. "It isn't to be in this Tour de France," Willems said to Cyclingnews.

    "It turned out to be the successful escape, and that makes it more painful. I couldn't deal with it at great length. Otherwise things seem worse, so I just focused on riding to the finish." Willems has only one goal left in this Tour and that shouldn't be a problem. "I want to make it to Paris."

  • Boogerd committed to retiring

    Boogerd wanted another stage
    Article published:
    July 28, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême "No, I'm really retiring," Boogerd didn't leave any doubts when...

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême

    "No, I'm really retiring," Boogerd didn't leave any doubts when asked if he wouldn't consider an extra year after his strong performances in this Tour de France.

    He was in low spirits when talking to Cyclingnews after the finish of Stage 18. "I'm disappointed because I had the legs to win today, but so be it," Boogerd said. "It was clear Casar was the strongest...if you can win the sprint from the lead. I guess Axel [Merckx] was probably empty because otherwise, he would've take pulls with Lefevre and he would've gone in the last kilometre. Casar was the deserved winner."

    After the departure of Michael Rasmussen, the Rabobank team chose not to leave the race along with the disgraced Dane. Yesterday at the start, "Boogie" drew negative attention when he attacked a so-called fan who was booing the Dutchman. But today, he was noticed in a more positive way thanks to his impressive riding.

    The leaders reached an advantage that was sufficient to make Boogerd a real threat for riders in the top-10. "It was very good today, but suddenly, Merckx was only sitting on our wheels because the position of Kirchen [seventh in GC] came into danger, which is understandable.

    "So we started riding 33km/h, and that isn't good for me, I prefer a harder race." The Euskaltel team finally started chasing to save the fifth placed spot for Haimar Zubeldia and tenth for Mikel Astarloza.

    Boogerd, the sympathetic Amstel Gold Race specialist said he never thought about the general classification. He just went for a third stage win in the Tour de France. "I just went for the victory, not for the GC or whatsoever."

    The 35 year-old is retiring at the end of the season, and he explained that he had liked the thought about a victory in the Tour de France in his last year. "That was going through my mind, and I realized that it would make me a legend if I took a victory in my last...

  • Merckx says farewell with final break

    Axel Merckx (T-Mobile)
    Article published:
    July 28, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême In what turned out to be his last realistic chance at a Tour stage...

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême

    In what turned out to be his last realistic chance at a Tour stage win, Axel Merckx (T-Mobile) nearly managed to claim his first ever Tour de France stage win. He sprinted towards a second place behind the unreachable Sandy Casar who started the sprint from first position.

    After the finish, Cyclingnews spoke with Merckx when he had recovered from his sprint. "I'm not a sprinter," Merckx laboured an obvious point, "and second is ok, because if I can be honest, Casar was the best. If you can start from the front and nobody can overtake you, then you're simply the best. Nobody could overtake him."

    "It was a tough year for me, mentally and physically, and I wanted to give something to the team-mates but it wasn't to be." With ten kilometres to go, Michael Boogerd, another retiring rider, started the final quest for the victory with a predictable attack. With less than five kilometres to go, Laurent Lefevre managed to create a gap, and then it was Casar himself who was left to ride solo in the final kilometres.

    "I had to chase very long to get back in the wheels," Merckx said he lost a lot of energy before the sprint. Casar kept going for the solo win but going into the final kilometre, he was brought back by Boogerd, while Merckx and Lefevre joined a little later.

    "The last 1,000m, it was everybody on his own, and Sandy Casar was so strong. I was empty and gambled that they would come on his wheel." Nevertheless the Belgian didn't spoil any energy on attacks, and in the final straight, he seemed to be in an ideal third position, behind the caught Casar and Boogerd, to start the sprint. "I was dying in last position, and then we came to the sprint... I am not a sprinter," Merckx smiled. "Anyway, if you can ride like this and still win with such an advantage then he was the strongest."

    The Belgian will retire after the Tour de France and is planning to live in...

  • Sastre to face Zubeldia for fourth

    Carlos Sastre (Team CSC)
    Article published:
    July 28, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Gregor Brown in Angoulême

    By Gregor Brown in Angoulême The 55.5-kilometre time trial between Cognac and Angoulême will likely...

    By Gregor Brown in Angoulême

    The 55.5-kilometre time trial between Cognac and Angoulême will likely decide the Tour de France when Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans go head to head, but there will be another tight battle on the roads through the Charente department as CSC's Carlos Sastre fights to keep his fourth overall from Haimar Zubeldia of Euskaltel-Euskadi. There are only 27 seconds separating the two Spaniards, and for Sastre, it is a matter of pride and a difference in 70,000 and 50,000 Euros in prize money.

    Friday morning, as the sun was beating its rays down on the holiday town of Cahors, 32 year-old Sastre explained that he is a little bit worried about keeping his spot in the general classification to the younger Basque (30 years-old).

    "He is really close, but I am here to fight and I will do my best in the time trial," said Sastre, who comes from Madrid, to Cyclingnews. "Normally in the last time trial we were at the same level. I don't know what will happen but I will worry, for sure."

    The Danish team started the Tour with Fränk Schleck and Sastre as captains but its first week was filled with glory as Fabian Cancellara took the maillot jaune on day one in London, which he held it to Le Grand-Bornand. Sastre had the help of Schleck in the mountains and, along with his steady riding, he remained in the top-end of the GC even with a loss of 20 seconds to Zubeldia on stage 16 to Col d'Aubisque.

    "I started with the podium as my dream for this Tour, it is not possible but still I am here to fight, and to do my best in the time trial to maintain my fourth position." Overall, he is content with his performance in this year's race. "I am happy because I came here and went at the top of my capabilities. It is just that two or three riders have better legs than I do. You have to be realistic. I give my congratulations to them, and I am happy for myself."

    Zubeldia rose to...

  • New Tour doping case looms?

    Article published:
    July 28, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Cyclingnews staff

    By Cyclingnews staff Following the exclusion of pre-race favourite Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana),...

    By Cyclingnews staff

    Following the exclusion of pre-race favourite Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), race leader Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) and Christian Moreni (Cofidis) from the race, hopes that the Tour de France would get to Paris with no further scandals appear uncertain due to rumours that another doping case has taken place.

    Unconfirmed reports have said that a prominent rider tested positive on last Sunday's Pyrenean stage to Plateau de Beille.

    Tour de France organisers ASO have called a press conference for 11 am on Saturday, where they are expected to elaborate further on the situation.

  • "Contador couldn't hold his wheel"

    Contador is a young winner
    Article published:
    July 28, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême Predictor-Lotto manager Marc Sergeant talked with Cyclingnews about...

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême

    Predictor-Lotto manager Marc Sergeant talked with Cyclingnews about the time trial that will decide the outcome of the Tour de France.

    Yellow jersey Alberto Contador's Discovery Team director Johan Bruyneel, had made a comment pointing to the mostly flat prologue in London where Cadel Evans had lost a second on Contador.

    "Then Contador will win the Tour," Sergeant laughed in response. He didn't want to argue with Bruyneel's comment. Instead, the Belgian pointed out that his own rider, Tour contender Evans, was clearly fresher than Contador.

    "Evans is fresh and Contador, who couldn't hold his wheel a few moments ago. That's what I saw, he just lost three seconds [in stage 18]," said Sergeant. "Before that, we were very lucky because Evans almost hit a spectator who wanted to take a picture with only three kilometres to go. We're happy with what we have now."

    Sergeant said he prefers that Evans stay in his current position rather than crash out. "Anyhow every time trial is different, especially after three weeks. Contador showed he wasn't going that strong anymore in the last mountains stage while Evans saved his Tour there, so we're not giving up. It will be decided on who's the most fresh rider," Sergeant predicted.

    "We gain three seconds now," Sergeant said, expressing his hope that these seconds could decide the final winner. When reminded of the smallest gap ever (only eight seconds) that separated winner Greg Lemond from Laurent Fignon in 1989, the Belgian team manager was humble. "We don't need anything more tomorrow," Sergeant laughed.

  • Discovery believes in mentally tough Contador

    The Spaniard intends to keep it
    Article published:
    July 28, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême Before and after stage 18, Cyclingnews talked with Discovery Channel...

    By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême

    Before and after stage 18, Cyclingnews talked with Discovery Channel team managers Dirk Demol and Johan Bruyneel, who have guided their team to the enviable position of defending first and third places in the general classification with only one definitive time trial left before the final parade into Paris.

    All the pressure on the Discovery Channel team has ended up on the shoulders of young Spaniard Alberto Contador, who's currently leading the general classification. Contador will face off against Predictor Lotto's Cadel Evans, now in second place, in Saturday's final Tour de France time trial. Directeur sportif Dirk Demol reminded us that the yellow jersey does strange things with the riders who wear it.

    When asked if he felt a one-two finish was possible for the American team given that Levi Leipheimer is within just a minute Evans, Discovery team manager Johan Bruyneel said, "Evans will also try to ride the time trial of his life, so it will be very difficult for Leipheimer to get past him; if we can keep the yellow jersey, then we'll be happy," the Belgian director said.

    Adjusting to yellow

    "Contador found it hard to be suddenly offered that yellow jersey; we were at peace with [being in] second place," Demol reflected on how the team was suddenly in the yellow jersey after the departure of Michael Rassmussen (Rabobank) from the Tour late Wednesday. "He's young, and before the Tour, we didn't know how he would react during the third week. We noticed that he was near the limit in the mountains although the motivation of a yellow jersey can help a lot, of course. We believe we can do it," Demol said.

    Bruyneel said it isn't easy to predict the result of the time trial because there wasn't much data to compare the two riders. "Evans is more of a time trialist specialist than Contador, so that's a disadvantage for us, but I don't think the difference can...

  • Evans collides with spectator - but Aussie jags three seconds on GC

    Article published:
    July 28, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    John Trevorrow

    By John Trevorrow Cadel Evans (Predictor Lotto) had a close encounter of the female kind. Just after...

    By John Trevorrow

    Cadel Evans (Predictor Lotto) had a close encounter of the female kind. Just after crossing the line at Angouleme, a woman ran in front of him, and Evans had to revert to an "Aussie Rules" style hip and shoulder move.

    Fortunately, the GC podium contender remained upright although the same can't be said for the spectator. "I copped one at the finish but I'm alright (rubbing his shoulder)," said Evans.

    Commenting on the upcoming time trial, Evans said, "The last two days have been good recovery after the Pyrenees. That's normal to recover for the time trial. We will know all the answers out on the road tomorrow, through all the time checks and then at the finish."

    Although he admitted his chances looked small after the Pyrenees, Evans was more optimistic now. "Yeah, five minutes to make up in the time trial was a bit daunting, but now I'm a lot more confident." With Michael Rassmussen (Rabobank) gone from the race, Evans is only 1.50 off current leader Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel).

    Evans showed some cunning and strength in the 18th stage by closely following the sprinters' teams, who created a gap in the main peloton as they barrelled down the final few kilometres of the stage. Tom Boonen's Quick.Step-Innergetic squad put on the gas to set up their man to collect all-important points in the green jersey category. Although he was only sprinting for fifth place in the stage, the points were very important to Boonen as well as his main rivals, Barloworld's Robert Hunter and the evergreen Erik Zabel (Milram). Those three riders finished in that order, and retain those positions in the green jersey competition, with Boonen now 24 points clear of the South African, Hunter.

    QSI did a clinical job of setting up Boonen for the sprint, and tucked into this fast-finishing group was Evans, while current yellow jersey Contador was gapped and led a second group across the line, three seconds in arrears. The...

  • Casar gives French some good news

    Sandy Casar (Française Des Jeux)
    Article published:
    July 28, 2007, 1:00 BST
    By:
    Jean-François Quénet in Angoulême

    By Jean-François Quénet in Angoulême Sandy Casar (Française Des Jeux) finally won a stage in the...

    By Jean-François Quénet in Angoulême

    Sandy Casar (Française Des Jeux) finally won a stage in the Tour de France after trying many times with no success. In 2005, he finished second twice, and he did so again last week in Marseille behind Cédric Vasseur (Quickstep - Innergetic). "I had come second too many times. I could have been fourth today, it didn't matter. Only the victory counted," he said.

    "It's a relief," said team manager Marc Madiot who advised his riders prior to the start that to increase the chance of a French win, it was best to breakaway with other Frenchmen. A gentleman's agreement between Casar and Bouygues Telecom's Laurent Lefèvre also worked for the good of the man with the four leaf clover jersey.

    Casar's win wasn't enough to cancel out all the bad news for French cycling. "It remains a sh** Tour," added the FDJ boss. But it gives a bit of hope as Casar and his team have stood clear against drugs since 1998. "On Sunday next week, I [will] organize a bike race for Under 17 [racers]. There will be more than 100 starters, and I want these kids to have the will to become bike riders," Madiot said determined, but optimistic.

    Madiot said he was proud to see Casar taking the initiative with about three kilometers to go. As the rest of the group was going on the right side of a roundabout, Casar attacked on the left. "Boogerd chased me down quite hard," Casar said. "When they caught me with 300 meters to go, I thought it was over for me, but I persisted because I wanted this win very badly. I wanted to do well for all the crowd who supported us again today."

    He had crashed after only 27km of racing due to a dog that crossed the road unexpectedly in front of him. "We hadn't created a big gap to the bunch yet, so we were riding flat out when a dog crossed the road. Dogs always get crazy when the crowd yells. I...