By Jean-François Quénet in Compiègne
Every Tour de France has one rider who is destined to spend hundreds of kilometres in futile breakaways. In the past, that honour belonged to a rider by the name of Jacky Durand, but this year is has been inherited by another Frenchman, Stéphane Augé. Ever since Durand soloed to victory over 217 kilometres in the 1992 Tour of Flanders, few have dared to dream as big. Now, the mantle has been passed to Cofidis' Augé, and he has taken the mountain leader's jersey along with his breakaway reputation after a valiant bridge to the break on stage three.
"Now I've even realized that it can work," said Augé, who has a stage of the Tour of Poland, of the Tour of Germany and of the Tour du Limousin on his record book. He also won Cholet-Pays de Loire this year, although he was the only Cofidis rider in a large breakaway. Already named most aggressive rider after stage one, his successful bridge to the stage three breakaway on the way into Compiègne, Augé finds a higher purpose by riding in front of the peloton.
When he turned pro with Festina in 2000 at the late age of 26, Stéphane Augé had no idea whether or not he would have a long career. He was talking about taking over the family farm in Poey-de-Lescar, near Pau, but now he has found his place in cycling. After moving to Jean Delatour, then Crédit Agricole and now Cofidis, Augé has become a rider that the younger professionals can look up to and get advice from.
Augé reckons the best way to teach is to lead by example by going for the breakaways. When he rode away for 175 kilometres on stage one, he said he didn't worry. "I do about 3000 kilometres of breakaway yearly anyway," he said. "And believe me: I'll break clear again because I want to be awarded as the most aggressive rider of the Tour de France." That title used to be Jacky Durand's speciality.
"With the experience, I get to know how to win," he commented after the stage one finish in Canterbury. He was frustrated because his realistic goal for that day was to put on the polka dot jersey. He was equal on points with David Millar at the end, but the Scot got the jersey because of his higher ranking on the general classification.
Inspired to experience the adulation of the crowd from one Tour podium, Augé went for the single climb on stage three as his last chance for glory. "At least I'll have this jersey for one day," he said.
Aged 33, Augé knows how to make himself popular. We'll see more of him during the 2007 Tour de France because he seriously intends to succeed David De La Fuente and Oscar Pereiro, the last two winners of the "Prix de la Combativité" – the most aggressive rider competition – for which journalists, former champions and members of the organization vote every day."