News feature, July 19, 2007
Quickstep's veteran French rider Cédric Vasseur bookended his career with a stage win in Marseille, besting his breakaway companions in a frenetic sprint to the line. Cyclingnews' Jean-François Quénet was in Marseille to witness the brilliant win.
Ten years ago, Cédric Vasseur began his Tour de France career by winning stage give to La Châtre and taking the yellow jersey for five days, while today he reiterated that he will retire after taking the victory in stage ten of his last Tour de France. "I'm stopping at the end of this year for sure," he confirmed after his victory.
Vasseur rode like a master in breakaway, limiting his work in the final kilometres and timing his sprint to perfection. "I marked two men: Flecha because he hadn't worked much and Voigt because he's always fearful," the Frenchman explained. "When Halgand attacked, I followed Voigt. I knew how it would happen on the Col de la Gineste - I know this climb, in ten years, I've had many opportunities to climb it at the Tour of the Mediterranean or at other races. I suspected that the other riders would have problems."
Despite putting in one dig in the final five kilometres, the 36 year-old sat at the back of the small group and watched like a cat ready to pounce. "I gambled everything on my sprinting," he explained, still drained from the heat which reached 37 degrees on the day. "After 230 kilometres, the heat was hard to handle. With 200 meters to go, as I was in last position of the group and everyone was looking on the left, I surprised them on the right. I never lost the advantage of the speed, that's how I managed to keep one tyre ahead of Casar. I felt they were pushing behind me."
"I gambled everything on my sprinting." -Vasseur explains how he came to win stage ten
Vasseur had been doing much of the work at the front of the peloton in the first week, working for his star sprinter Tom Boonen, but today was his day to shine after 'Tommeke' needed another day of rest after the Alps. After escorting Boonen in the Col d'Iseran on stage nine, Vasseur took it easy with the idea of breaking away to Marseille. "Quick Step had already won two stages [with Gert Steegmans and Tom Boonen, ed.], in French we say: never two without three."
This was Vasseur's last chance to win a Tour de France stage. Aged 37, he's doing his last season "for sure". "I know my level," he explained. "There are young riders ready to take over. When I think of my victory ten years ago, I say to myself: ten years is a lot. Today I heard a lot of ‘allez Vasseur'. My popularity comes from what I did ten years ago. I even attacked with the yellow jersey at the bottom of Arcalis. It was crazy but I'm not a normal rider. I was an engineer student before I became a pro cyclist."
His story was the perfect one to make France fall in love with him. Vasseur's father Alain Vasseur won a stage in the 1970 Tour de France one month before Cédric's birth, and is also a former director of the Tour. Jean-Marie Leblanc was at Cédric baptism because he was a friend and team-mate of his father's on the Bic team.
Cédric is realistic about his career: "I've won what I was able to: the GP of Isbergues, twice, a stage in the Dauphiné and at the Four Days of Dunkirk," he said. "I've helped Lance Armstrong win the Tour de France and I've seen that I didn't have the same physique as him at all for the Grand Tours. Now I'm helping Tom Boonen to bring the green jersey to Paris, but in the Classics, I don't reach the level of his ankle. I've done everything I could in cycling with the physical abilities I have. I'm an average rider. I'll go away with no regret. I don't have much to do in the world of cycling anymore."
While Vassuer's career has been long and that mainly of a loyal domestique, his image was tarnished a bit during the Cofidis affair in 2004. L'Equipe claimed he had tested positive for cocaine, but the Frenchman denied the allegations and provided his own hair as proof that he had not used the drug, He was cleared of the charges, and left the Cofidis team to finish his career at Quick Step.
Vasseur praised his team manager, saying, "Quick Step is one of the best teams in the world," he said. "Patrick Lefévère has given me confidence again the same way he helped Richard Virenque to restart his career."
The importance of his victory was not lost on the veteran who took the first win for France in this year's Tour. "I'm happy to offer France a first stage victory in this Tour," he declared. "Prior to the stage, I was explaining to a journalist that cycling has changed a lot in twenty years with the arrival of riders from Eastern Europe and Australia. Of course, mathematically, French riders have less chance to win now. Apart from Moreau, there aren't French riders able to climb or time trial like the best of the field but it's possible to do well in transition stages. Look, today with Sandy Casar we come first and second, so it's clear that French guys can do it."