By Brecht Decaluwé in Aurillac
CSC - Saxo Bank tried to stamp its collective authority on the Tour de France Friday, with a show of force on the undulating roads through the Massif Central. But the Danish team's tactics produced only a minor reshuffle at the finish, with Damiano Cunego the sole big name to lose time.
Bjarne Riis' team meant business right from the start, putting Jens Voigt in the breakaway and then driving the peloton soon after Cunego was involved in a crash after 60 kilometres. It appeared that CSC - Saxo Bank had made a concerted effort to distance Cunego and Quick Step leader Stijn Devolder, as the peloton split into echelons with a 25-strong group up front. However, 40 kilometres later, after work from Lampre and Quick Step, the two main groups were back together.
Rolf Aldag, directeur sportif from the Columbia team was not comfortable with the CSC tactics. "If they started pulling after Cunego crashed then I think they shouldn't have done that," Aldag said.
Riis explained why CSC chose to ride offensively and said he felt Cunego had received enough time to return in the peloton. He was actually more annoyed with the tactics of Caisse d'Epargne, who refused to work with CSC despite having several riders in the front group. "Every team has its own tactics and one should respect that. There are other days where teams don't understand us, when we do something," Riis said.
When asked about the crash of Cunego and the reaction from the CSC team, Riis said: "Early on we had Jens [Voigt] in the front, so we didn't have to ride. Then we didn't ride because there was a crash, but afterwards the race goes on and since Jens was caught back we moved to the front. The course turned and there were more crosswinds, no metre was flat and that's hard for everybody.
"I told the guys to put the hammer down to put the pressure on everybody and see which riders and teams have the legs in the peloton," Riis added. "The most important thing I learned is that my team is strong. Slowly we are getting into the race and we are looking forward to the mountains."
One of the CSC riders, Fränk Schleck, said he wasn't aware of Cunego's crash and had a different story to tell. "We were pulling in front and 10 minutes later we heard there was a crash," said Schleck. "We started to ride in the front to stay out of trouble."
Team-mate Jens Voigt wasn't happy with the support from the Caisse d'Epargne riders either. "We created a split in the crosswinds section. It looked quite promising for a moment, but nobody helped us, that's why we stopped," said Voigt. It did seem like some riders from Caisse d'Epargne were also pulling at one moment, but Voigt said he did not consider that as help. "They pulled with one man while they had the strongest team in the race, that's not enough," Voigt said.
While the efforts of the CSC team didn't harm any general classification contenders, it did hurt a lot of other riders and some were forced to abandon. France's general classification contender Christophe Moreau had written a preview on the stage in L'Equipe in which he said that it would be an even harder stage than on Thursday; in fact Moreau himself turned out to be one of the victims. Other riders who abandoned were Mauro Facci (Quick Step) and John Gadret (Ag2r La Mondiale). The latter had been sick and suffered right from the start.
Big time gaps were marked down at the finish line in Aurillac, and the last group crossed the line 21'53" after winner Sánchez. The Garmin team suffered a big blow as their road captain Magnus Backstedt missed the time cut by more than four minutes. The giant Swede crossed the finish line in a terrible condition and needed medical assistance.
Despite the casualties, Aldag maintained it was a waste of energy from the CSC team. "For us it didn't matter too much what CSC was doing up front, as long as our general classification guys were there," said Aldag. "I think CSC used a lot of energy and in the head they're probably not feeling that great, because their efforts didn't really result in major upsets.
Hendrik Redant from the Silence-Lotto team shared this opinion. "All favourites were in the front, so the echelons were useless," said Redant.