On the wheel of Jalabert

Liberty Seguros rider Marcos Serrano today saved the honour of his Spanish team by taking the...

An interview with Marcos Serrano, July 21, 2005

Liberty Seguros rider Marcos Serrano today saved the honour of his Spanish team by taking the victory on the Côte de la Croix-Neuve, recently renamed 'Côte de Laurent Jalabert' in the end of Stage 18 from Albi to Mende. Under a sunny sky and in beautiful wheat field country, Serrano attacked the remains of the obligatory break of the day on the last Spring Classic-like 10 percent ascent, and had no problems flying back down to the local airport with a strong tailwind blowing him to the finish, as Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner reports from Mende.

"It's unbelievable," he said after crossing the line. "You work so hard all the time and really suffer, and then you finally succeed!" As personally rewarding as a Tour de France stage win is, the Galician was quick to dedicate it to his family, and say that it was success of the whole team - who had to bury their hopes for good general classification standings in this Tour de France, as leader Roberto Heras wasn't exactly up to the challenge in the recent mountain stages.

"I don't know if this makes up for our lost hopes," he replied when asked what the victory meant to Liberty Seguros. "We've tried to jump into the breakaways in the mountain stages of this Tour. Allan Davis was there the other day, and Alberto Contador also. Today was my turn..."

Serrano caught the right break with 40 kilometres into the stage in a habitually fast and nervous first hour raced at 46.4 km/h despite a continuous uphill road. The 10-man group was allowed to escape, and quickly gained a 15 minute lead as the bunch slowed down to 35.6 km/h in the third hour of racing. Finally, the breakaway disintegrated on the penultimate climb, the Côte de Chabrits.

"All the riders in that group were potential winners," he said when asked which of his fellow breakaway mates he thought were his main rivals as they hit the final climb: Xabier Zandio (Illes Balears), Cédric Vasseur (Cofidis), Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) or Axel Merckx (Davitamon-Lotto)? "I didn't think that Axel would go for it on his own but when he did, I knew that I could follow him and that the stage could be mine." Serrano responded to Merckx's attack and soloed to the finish with 1.5 km of the climb to go.

"I wanted to break his rhythm and accelerated, but not too explosively actually," Serrano recalled. "Sometimes it's not the strongest attack that works. This one did anyway, and then I only thought about crossing the line. I looked back in the finale because I didn't know my gap - with the noise of the cars and the spectators you don't hear anything in your earpiece anymore. But then I finally heard our directeur sportif and I knew..."

Serrano pushed his fists towards the sky at the finish line in the aerodrome, where the Laurent 'Jaja' Jalabert had won the 12th stage of the Tour 1995 - hence the renaming of the climb. And one could say that Serrano follows his footsteps, as he recently scored the victory of Milan-Turin, another race that Jalabert had put on his long list of successes in 1997.

Asked if these coincidences actually were similarities, Serrano responded, "Well, apparently I must be made for the same sort of races as him - I knew that he had won here also because Manolo Saiz talked about this in the bus on the way to the start. He always likes to remember history, especially when it concerns his team of course. But I was just lucky to get into the right break, as Alberto Contador had tried to get away as well just before. On the last climb, I had the advantage of my experience in the Classics."

As well as the right legs, which Serrano trained together with his close friend Oscar Pereiro, who also won a stage in this Tour, two days ago. "Yes, we're good friends," the proud Spaniard laughed. "Of the 300 training days in one year, we spend about 200 together on the road. I'm sure he's as happy for me than I was for him the other day - it's the proof that cycling in Galicia [the home region of both Serrano and Pereiro - ed.] is on the rise, and I'm not saying that only because of myself!"

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