By Brecht Decaluwe in Strasbourg
Cofidis' rider Jimmy Casper was the happiest man in Strasbourg today when he took the first stage of this year's Tour de France - his first Tour victory ever. "I think that today is the greatest day in my life," the Frenchman said shortly after his impressive sprint. "Actually, it would be if I could share this happiness with my wife and kids, who are at home."
Casper rolled up the crème de la crème of cycling sprinters, making Boonen, McEwen and co look like they were almost standing still. "At 1.5 kilometres before the last curve I was still not too well-placed, so I thought it was better to stay there and see what happens in the very last moment," he continued. "With about one kilometre to go, I had to go into the brakes. I decided to come back through the inside, which succeeded. Then, it opened up just at the right time with this rider in fourth position jumping, and I did the perfect sprint. I hope I can repeat that soon. I know that people waited to see me win for a long time and I hope that I can make up for it now."
The 28 year-old has definitely earned himself a morale boost. "I beat really big names like Boonen, the world champion," Casper continued. "He’s such great rider. Also Robbie McEwen is a top three rider worldwide when you talk about sprinting. Beating all these big names makes me really happy."
Asked if he had seen what happened to Thor Hushovd, he replied, "It’s really sad; I saw that he fell down, but it didn’t change anything for my victory." Hushovd had been heavily wounded by a big cardboard hand given to the spectators by PMU, which also sponsors the jersey for best sprinter. "I think that in the past, it was already said that those objects are dangerous," Casper continued. "The objects shouldn’t be there in the last kilometre. [They had already been forbidden inside the last kilometres after Robbie McEwen complained in 2002, but now seem allowed again - ed.] It’s good that the crowd is already shut off in the last kilometres."
This French victory comes just right after the country's soccer team beat Brazil's 'Selecao' on Saturday night, entering the World Cup semi-finals and putting the whole of France into a new frenzy similar to 1998. "Yes, of course!" was Casper's answer if he had watched the game. "We watched the first half downstairs with the rest of the hotel, the rest of the game we saw in our room. Together with David Moncoutié, I tried to relax a bit while watching the game. But we really got into it, of course. It was great to feel all those emotions. I’m not a football fan, but I’m French so I’m proud of the victory."