By Anthony Tan in Tours
Some may have thought Erik Dekker's motivation for going in the early break on Stage 3 of the Tour was to take the mountains jersey, but one of cycling's most cunning riders only had one thing on his mind when he left the peloton 24 kilometres into the stage. "It's the only reason I'm here - to win a stage," he said at the finish when asked about his motives.
Together with Rubens Bertogliati (Saunier Duval) and Nicolas Portal (Ag2r), the trio's lead never got into dangerous figures to threaten the maillot jaune of David Zabriskie (Team CSC), reaching a maximum of 5'40 after 100 km, but when you have a man like Dekker in the break, you just never know.
The 34 year-old, who started his career back in 1992 with Buckler, then Novell, then WordPerfect and then Rabobank - where he's stayed the last ten years - has won just about everything a pure Classics specialist dreams of winning; San Sebastian, Amstel Gold, Paris-Tours, the World Cup, national championships in the time trial and the road, and four stages of the Tour de France to name just a few. Maybe the only must-have missing from his palmarès is the Ronde van Vlaanderen, although he came ever so close in 2001, where he was beaten by Gianluca Bortolami in an eight-man sprint.
Dekker's also shown his versatility as a week-long stage racer. Three victories in the Ronde Van Nederland (1997, 2000, 2004), wins at the 2001 Ruta del Sol and GP Erik Breukink, and perhaps his finest stage-race accomplishment coming in 2002, where he captured overall honours in Tirreno-Adriatico.
After 13 years in the peloton, this man has ridden virtually every race he's wanted to do as professional, but he's also seen his share of setbacks. However, an incredible ability to read a race as he were the author and his never-say-die attitude have never eluded him - just like today. Even when Bertogliati dropped off and it was just he and Portal in the final kilometres, his face never resembled one of lost hope, and not until he knew for sure they would be caught did he look behind.
True to his style, there's every chance he'll try again tomorrow. "I think I was the strongest, but you need the right circumstances. You need to have the cooperation of the peloton - you can't fight against three, four, five sprinters' teams. It was hard, but we almost did it.
"Today was the first attempt; we still have 19 days to go... " he said.