Tour de France News feature, July 23, 2008
The second French victory at this Tour de France is not only special to the Grande Nation because it was French, but also because stage winner Cyril Dessel has come back a long way to grab his first success at the Grande Boucle. The AG2R rider first came into the limelight at the Tour two years ago, when he conquered the yellow jersey for a day, missing out on a victory only by a hair.
But since then, Dessel was anonymous again. The 2007 season of the Frenchman was a blank one, due to a toxoplasmosis infection which took all of his energy. But Dessel came back in spring, took some of his finest victories in June with stage wins at the Volta a Catalunya and the Dauphiné Libéré, and now added "the cherry on the cake", the French equivalent of the icing.
"This victory is very special to me," said an overjoyed Dessel in the finish. "Last year, I was really at the lowest ebb. The Tour de France public was waiting for me because I had done really well the year before, but I just couldn't perform because of my illness. Fortunately, I could count on the support of my family and the team, which allowed me to rest for two months after the Tour.
"I knew that there was a very sharp turn at 130 metres to the line. I looked at the roadbook this morning, and maybe the other riders didn't look it up... " -Cyril Dessel explains why he was able to outfox his breakaway companions to take the win.
"In the beginning of November, a long period of hard work started. I had to start over from scratch, basically. During winter, I got the first signs that I was getting better, as I recovered well from the training sessions, whereas the winter before, I was just powerless all the time. The winter was encouraging.
"But the season start was hard again. I was sort of back to form, but I couldn't get any results. I had to be patient, and not doubt my abilities to come back. After all, you don't get back to top shape from scratch in three months."
Moreover, his AG2R team-mates didn't return the results the squad management expected, either, so the pressure started to build up. Fortunately, Dessel was able to salvage the situation for everyone.
"In April, finally, I started to get the same feelings again than before my illness," he continued. "Then, I was lucky to be able to win in the Four Days of Dunkirk, which meant the end of the tunnel for me. From then on, I was back out in the light, with returned confidence."
Dessel then went on to win a stage in the Volta a Catalunya and in the Dauphiné Libéré, by the way much in a similar way than his Tour de France victory of today. All three times, he was in the right breakaway in the mountains, and made the difference in the final descent to the finish.
"At first, I didn't believe in the victory at all! We were so many riders in the break, so I thought it was going to be difficult. But as we climbed the Col de la Bonette, Tadel Valjavec and myself did a lot of the work, and on the summit, I saw that there weren't that many riders left. That's when I started to think about the victory, when there was only four of us left."
But, contrary to his previous successes a few weeks ago, Dessel didn't go solo but had to battle it out against his companions Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto), Sandy Casar (Francaise des Jeux) and David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne) in a sprint. "I remained very concentrated in the descent, because if you leave Popovych a gap of 200 metres, then it's difficult to catch him afterwards.
"Then, I knew that there was a very sharp turn at 130 metres to the line," he continued. "I looked at the roadbook this morning, and maybe the other riders didn't look it up... It's always interesting to take a look when there are a bit more complicated finales, like in Bagnères-de-Bigorre, where I finished third. In these sort of finishes, I imagine the line at the curve, actually. Because afterwards, it's impossible to pass. So that's what I did, I attacked with 400 metres to go.
"In the finish, I didn't want to risk anything, which is why I didn't raise my arms as I crossed the line. A Tour de France victory, moreover in the mountains, is so important that I preferred not to... Who cares about the photo!"
Of course, the Tour de France victory is an enormous feat for the Frenchman. "After having worn the yellow jersey in 2006, I was a little bit disappointed because for me, a stage victory in the Tour would have been more important. I had placed second in a stage, but on a rider's palmarés, a Tour de France victory still counts enormously. That's why I really wanted a stage win this year, even more so after winning in some of the most beautiful stage races before the Tour."
Now, Dessel can look back on both: the yellow jersey in 2006 and the victory in 2008.