By Bjorn Haake in Zaragoza
Sébastien Hinault of Crédit Agricole upgraded his resume with a strong sprint win in stage ten of the Vuelta a España. Hinault took the stage over Lloyd Mondory (AG2R) and Greg Van Avermaet (Silence - Lotto), with the sprint favourites Oscar Freire and Tom Boonen managing only fourth and fifth.
The win should help the Crédit Agricole rider find a new contract. The team is not continuing its sponsorship and no one else has stepped in to take over the French team. Hinault knows that time is running out to find a home for 2009. "I don't have a team yet for next year, but I hope this [win] will help," he said. Hinault described the sprint victory as his biggest career win on an individual level. "In terms of the team, winning the team time trial in the 2001 Tour was the best," he added.
This statement showed how close-knit the Crédit Agricole team is these days in spite of its impending demise. "The team just wants to close out the season well. We are very motivated at the Vuelta and everybody wants to go on the attack. Today it was me who won, but the whole team is motivated."
Hinault doesn't want to leave it at that. "Yes, I definitely would like to win another stage, be it in a sprint or in a break." Hinault has the ingredients to shine in either type of finish.
For him the end of the French squad is a sad affair. "It's a real pity that a team like ours has to stop. I was hoping until the end that Roger [Legeay] would find a new sponsor."
Hinault is closing in to match his years as a professional with the number of wins. In his 12th season as a pro, the Vuelta win was his 11th victory. More importantly, his latest victory was taken over big names like Freire and Boonen, but it was not the first time he beat a big sprinter. "At the Tour of Germany I already won a bunch sprint with Tom Boonen being there." Additionally, he beat Mark Cavendish in the Tour de Langkawi two years ago.
As for who was the better sprinter, Tom Boonen (Quick Step) or Oscar Freire (Rabobank), it was a tough question to answer for Hinault. "They are both great sprinters, it depends a bit on how the sprint unfolds. Freire is faster in the last few metres, Boonen is better in a longer sprint."
A slow build up
The sprint into Zaragoza started out a tad slow. The last ten kilometres were not as fast as Hinault would have expected it to be. "It didn't start to accelerate until Pozzato from Liquigas attacked." Initially there was a bit of chaos in the peloton. "The teams didn't manage to organise themselves."
That only happened when Quick Step took over. The experienced Belgian squad took matter in its hands, but vanished surprisingly early from the front. Wisely, Hinault had chosen a different rider to mark. "With 300m to go I was on the wheel of Greg van Avermaet, who won yesterday. Then I launched my sprint."
Hinault's win was a tight one, but after the crossed the line he pulled out all stops in his winning celebration. He punched the air, a big grin on his face.
The win is unlikely to increase his chances to be selected to the French National team for the World Championships in Varese, Italy, from September 23-28. "The national coach hasn't called me yet, so I don't think I will be at the Worlds."
This may well be the worst piece of news for Hinault lately. With his sprint win and his other career wins in his resume, he should at least be able to find a new team for 2009, which is more important than a participation in the World Championships.