By John Trevorrow in Lorient
Finally a breakaway succeeded in this Tour de France. AG2R-Prevoyance rider Sylvain Calzati, a Frenchman with an Italian name (an unusual combination on the eve of the World Cup final) rode clear of a six man breakaway with 32 kilometres to go.
Riding into strong, gusty winds, Calzati refused to be dragged back, as all other breaks have been this Tour. Finn Kjell Carlström (Liquigas) and Frenchman Patrice Halgand (Crédit Agricole) managed to just hold off the flying peloton to take second and third.
At the post race press conference, Calzati stunned the French media when he was asked how important a French win was on the eve of the French hopes in the World Cup "I'm sorry to disappoint you but I'm barracking for Italy," Calzati said.
Robbie McEwen stormed across the line in fourth spot and increased his lead in the battle for green to 17 points, as nearest rival Boonen could only manage ninth. "We decided not to chase the break as we had Mario Aerts up there and it was really up to Quickstep to do it," McEwen said. "I was happy to increase my lead over Boonen."
The two Australian GC contenders, Michael Rogers and Cadel Evans, finished comfortably in the main bunch. "We didn't have to work too hard, we put some pressure on the guys from Phonak. It was a bit nervous early with the wind, a lot of crosswinds and a bit dangerous. It was a solid day all-round and it's good to get the first part of the tour out of the way. Kessler took the pressure off T Mobile by getting up there early. It was a hard day but we got away pretty much unscathed," Rogers said.
Evans was also relaxed after the finish. "I won't be doing much on the rest day. In fact I'll be doing as little as possible. I may go for a short ride and I'll be sleeping and keeping away from the media. The race really starts in a couple of days and I'm not going to spend a rest day worrying about what might happen," Evans said.
Stuart O'Grady and Simon Gerrans, Australia's other two riders, also finished in the main group. O'Grady is starting to look more comfortable and now and believes he can make it to Paris. "There was another big improvement again today with my back. It has really loosened up and I'm now starting to think it could be possible to get to Paris, something I would not have thought four days ago," O'Grady said.
Gerrans was his usual exuberant self after the finish but looked a little tired. "Actually I suffered a bit today; I thought I was stuck to the road. But it was great to get a teammate in the break; it took the pressure off us and even better with Sylvain Calzati getting the win. I will enjoy the champagne tonight," Gerrans quipped.