By Hedwig Kröner in Saint-Etienne
Today, Team Columbia's Marcus Burghardt offered his directors the fifth victory in the Tour de France. After Briton Mark Cavendish scored the first four in bunch sprint finishes, the German delivered his first Tour win in an exciting head-to-head duel against Quick Step's Carlos Barredo on the finish line of stage 18 in Saint-Etienne.
Burghardt said that he had targeted this stage before coming to the Tour, knowing that he'd be working for Cavendish and team general classification leader Kim Kirchen in the first part of the race. "I really wanted to win this stage," said a delighted Burghardt in the finish. "It's a huge success for me and for our team. Even before the Tour, I had focused on today's and tomorrow's stages as perfect opportunities for a break and for a win, and it worked out!"
Burghardt and Barredo escaped the bunch after 68 kilometres into the 196 kilometre-stage starting in Bourg d'Oisans. The German had tried his luck in the very first break of the day, too, but got reeled in by the bunch. "Yesterday, as well as the day before, I took it very easy in the Alps to save some energy," he explained. "It was an extremely hard day today. I was in the first break right away, but we got caught after 30 kilometres. Still, I told myself not to give up, and jumped away again. Fortunately, it worked out!"
The pair managed to get a maximum lead of over ten minutes, and even though a chase group formed behind them, about three minutes adrift, the pair was safe to make it to the finish and battle out the victory between them. Barredo, a less gifted sprinter and better climber than Burghardt, tried to drop his rival several times, but Burghardt easily dominated him. "In the finale, Barredo said he wouldn't lead anymore because he has the weaker legs in the sprint," said the German. "I was very concentrated, because he always tried to get into second position and wanted to attack when I stop focusing."
In the last kilometres, the Spaniard even placed an attack while Burghardt was reaching for his opened jersey to zip it up. But the Columbia rider had no hard feelings. "Quick Step didn't have such a great Tour this year, so he had to try everything to get the victory."