By Susan Westemeyer
Gerolsteiner's Stefan Schumacher ought to have been satisfied with his 15th place finish in the Tour de France's time trial Saturday, but he would have finished higher if only...
The German had set new best times at both intermediate time checks along the 55.5-kilometre route, ahead of Leif Hoste and even Fabian Cancellara. But it started to rain, and with only 12 kilometres to go, his bike slipped away from him at a traffic circle and he went down. He still managed to finish 3'17" behind winner and former teammate Levi Leipheimer.
"Schumi" wasn't the only Gerolsteiner with bad luck in the time trial. "Paco" Wrolich also went down, but even more spectacularly. "After only eight kilometres I had a flat tire on a descent and crashed into a ditch. Fortunately I was ok."
His bike wasn't ok, though, and he needed a new one. "The dumb thing is that my replacement bike was on the auto that drove behind [teammate Heinrich] Haussler. So I had to wait three minutes. That put me into a panic about the cut-off time limit, but it worked out." Wrolich finished next to last, exactly 11 minutes back.
But at that he wasn't the slowest Gerolsteiner. That honour belonged to a rider who didn't even fall on the course. "Last place today! Clever, wasn't it?" said sprinter Robert Förster, happy to have it behind him. He was saving himself for the sprint finish Sunday in Paris, hoping to win the Tour's finale as he did the finale in the 2006 Giro d'Italia. He enjoyed the ride, noting the "wonderful atmosphere and the many fans," he wrote on radsport-news.com.
He and teammate Sven Krauss had been the first starters for Gerolsteiner, starting in the morning, so they took advantage of their free afternoon to watch the rest of the race on TV and dream of Paris.
Förster ended up dead last, 11'04" back.