By Gregor Brown in Saint Amand Montrond
Eighteen days after his first time trial win in Cholet, Stefan Schumacher showed his form had not been dented by multiple attacks in the Alps, blitzing the entire field with another superb display against the clock. The German bested world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara by 21 seconds to place himself amongst the hot favourites for Olympic gold in Beijing while also doing Gerolsteiner's ongoing sponsor search no harm whatsoever.
"I am lucky and satisfied. I am happy with myself. I had a good rhythm today and when we saw the circuit I knew it would be perfect for me - it was nearly the same type of circuit as Cholet," said Schumacher. "From the beginning I had a good rhythm and I knew the climb would make a difference in the finale. During the beginning I was going fast, but not so fast because I had to save energy for the end."
Besides his two stage wins, Schumacher wore yellow for two days before losing it on stage six to Super Besse when he crashed in the final kilometre. But when the Tour arrived in the Alps the gritty German went hunting for stages once more, making two long breakaways on the road to Jausiers and Alpe d'Huez. He even attempted to join a breakaway on Friday's stage to Montlucon, only to be hauled back by several teams desperate for a stage win.
"I was close to more stage wins, also yesterday in that escape and that day on the Col de la Bonette-Restefond, I was not so far off," he said. "I had many chances. For me it is the fourth three-week race, I am developing well and this is the first time I can go consistent. Normally I have deep dips in form."
His consistency paid off on Saturday, and even surprised his team manager Hans-Michael Holczer. "I did not think it was possible," said Holczer. "I thought when he started he was up on our timing, in the middle I could see he was having problems with his race radio. At the second intermediate time, we were 12 seconds behind. I thought, 'ok, this is the price he has to pay for his really aggressive riding in the last three stages'."
With the Olympic cycling disciplines coming in two weeks time, Schumacher hopes to hold his form until Beijing where will ride both the road race and time trial. Also on his mind is Holczer's hunt for a new title sponsor to replace the German mineral water company Gerolsteiner. The pair remain confident in finding a replacement, and Schumacher is expected to stay with Holczer and his future team, with an announcement expected before the Olympics begin.
"The way the team was presented and the way we were riding, we could have not done better," said Holczer. "Our riders were visible and this will help for finding a new partner."