While all the attention and focus is on the biggest cycling event of the year, in France, Belgian Stijn Devolder, who rides for the American Discovery Channel team, scored a big win in Austria by claiming their national Tour. The race ran from July 8 through to yesterday and features a mixture of sprint stages and mountain passes.
This year the race went so high up the Austrian Alps, not only did the riders get dizzy, but they also rode through snow-capped scenery that reminded the racers that they were heading through one of the most popular skiing areas in the world.
Devolder, the current Belgian Champion, started out by surviving the sprint stages, then finished a strong fourth in stage three to the Kitzbüheler Horn, a good minute behind teammates Thomas Rohregger and Christian Pfannberger. The two Austrians scored a 1-2 for the Elk Haus-Simplon team.
In the Queen stage to Prägraten Devolder was again solid, finishing only 33 seconds back. In the overall he was still a good 90 seconds, though.
The next day he was happy to see teammate Gianni Meersman take the win out of a seven-man break. Devolder finished some 9 minutes behind the lead group, but so did all the other contenders for the GC and there were no changes overall.
On stage 6 Devolder wanted to get a decision for the overall and constantly attacked. The race leader felt the heat. "That was war today," Rohregger said. "Some of the other teams, led by Stijn Devolder, permanently attacked. We had to do a lot of work." Gerrit Glomser of the Volksbank team came out on top.
But there were still no changes in the overall and time was running out. The time trial had to bring the decision and it was here where Stijn Devolder made the difference. Covering the 25 kilometres in only 28 minutes and twelve seconds, he averaged over 52 km/h and distanced Rohregger and Pfannberger by over two minutes to take the race lead with only one day remaining.
Temperatures of 35 degrees made the task especially daunting. "The heat was enormous," Rohregger said. "I even warmed up in the air conditioned hotel."
The final lap was a Champs-Elysees-like showdown in Vienna's inner city around the Ringstrasse.