Boonen beating bunch boosts morale

Tom Boonen's finishing ahead of Robbie McEwen, among others, in the bunch sprint for fifth yesterday...

Boonen-McEwen war of words continues

Tom Boonen's finishing ahead of Robbie McEwen, among others, in the bunch sprint for fifth yesterday has restored some of the Belgian world champion's and his team's morale.

"It's a good sign that I won the peloton sprint today, 'cause yesterday evening I was sick as a dog; very, very strange," Boonen told Sporza radio after the stage.

"I already had thoughts of going home," said Boonen. "This morning I got up and I still felt bad; I ate a bit of rice and light food. but I couldn't each much during the race. I had stitches in the stomach, I think my intestines were irritated or something like that, but I just drank lots of water and halfway through the stage it passed."

That improvement in his health is reflected in his form. Boonen said his legs felt good and he is improving as the Tour develops. Nevertheless, the scorching pace of the first couple of hours of yesterday's stage was a shock. "I thought it would have been nice and easy today. But the first 100km I got flashes from the past I tell you, the pace was so high," he said.

Boonen had some strong words about sprint rival Robbie McEwen, who joined Boonen in an early attack and, Boonen claimed, destroyed the break's chances. "I went into the attack because I thought it would go all day," said Boonen. "I went with it to win the stage; but Robbie was acting ridiculously the whole day, the entire peloton is really pissed at him."

"And then, in the chase for the four riders who attacked, Davitamon didn't ride anymore. It's his own big fault that Davitamon rode itself into mush for him. I wasn't sure of myself because of those stomach problems. It remained 4'20, it wasn't easy to take time off that lead, those weren't little men in that group hey! In our team the guys are starting to feel the little hick-ups a Tour brings on. We will only ride when we're sure of things."

McEwen expressed puzzlement at Boonen's reaction. "Boonen angry? Why would Boonen have to be angry about that?" he said from the team's hotel. "Look, I only have to watch my own rivals so I ride my race how I choose to. What others do or say or think about our team doesn't matter to us. The complete peloton angry at me? Well, I'm having dinner with my team mates so they're not angry."

Boonen's team manager Patrick Lefevere said that it was good for Boonen's morale to have won the bunch sprint in Carcassonne. Lefevere said that the stage was, "Bataille from the start. Tom went into the lead group, with McEwen on his wheel of course. But Tom said Robbie didn't want to ride with the others in the front and then Bennati went. Davitamon didn't calculate it well and then had to ride after it for 90km, with other teams or they wouldn't have closed the gap otherwise. Then Freire went later."

Lefevere mentioned that Boonen wasn't feeling great, and added, "We've done enough last week. So we left things as they were and Tom just won the sprint. There's a few more chances for a sprint to come, so we'll see, but today was good for his confidence. We could pull the peloton on a string in the finale, and it worked well, for what it's worth of course.

"It's my 26th year in this job, it my 24th Tour and I've learned not to panic," said Lefevere. "The public and fans might be impatient but I don't worry about that. The sponsors are happy, they are the ones that pay us and they're backing Tom completely. If we can get one stage win in before the finish in Paris our Tour is a success. We were aiming to have the leader's jersey for one day but we've held on to the yellow for four days and there's definitely teams that will go home with less. The weight of the yellow jersey proved to be a lot, it asked a lot of effort from the team to ride at the front like that during that first week. We didn't get much cooperation from the other teams, unlike last year."

Summing up the status of the team's rider, Lefevere said, "Vasseur crashed today but it's not bad. Cretskens has gone home and we really feel that. Bram Tankink's stomach wasn't good either today. With this speed and this heat today it was tough on all the riders. Let's hope they can recuperate by tomorrow. We'll see what comes."

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