Juan Manuel Garate saved Rabobank blushes at this year's Tour de France with a stage winning performance on the summit of Mont Ventoux. Garate jumped clear of breakaway companion Tony Martin in the final two hundred meters, in the process becoming the first Spaniard to win on the mountain in the Tour’s history.
It was a surprise win in many ways, not just for the fact that many had tipped either Alberto Contador or Andy Schleck for the stage but because Rabobank have endured one of their worst Tours since they entered the sport in 1996.
The Dutch squad began the race in Monaco on July 4 with Giro d’Italia champion Denis Menchov, last year’s points winner Oscar Friere and rising start Robert Gesink, who was tipped for a top ten placing. However Gesink crashed out on stage five with a broken wrist, while Oscar Freire has been almost invisible in the sprints and Denis Menchov has sustained multiple crashes, falling twice on one stage, and languishes in 51st place, 1:16:28 down on race leader Contador.
"We started in Monaco with okay performances in the time trial," Garate said at the finish of today’s stage. "But in the team time trial we lost a lot of time and Denis crashed a lot." In fact the team lost 2:21, leaving Menchov sitting in 72nd overall before the race had even hit the mountains.
"Until now it has not been a very good Tour for us. Rabobank is a big team and we have to win one stage in the Tour."
Garate had formed part of a 16 man escape group just three kilometres into the stage and attacked on the climb of Ventoux, bringing with him Tony Martin and Christophe Riblon. The Frenchman was dropped with Garate and Martin working together until the finish. Garate attacked as the duo reached the Tom Simpson memorial and despite being caught subsequently by Martin, he jumped again to take the biggest win of his career.
"I don’t think I could win today when the group went clear of the peloton. When it’s the last stage in the tour and all the big guys are vying for the podium it’s hard," he said.
"I wasn’t worried when Martin caught me. When I attacked I dropped him but there was a strong headwind so I eased up a bit hoping he could help me in the last few hundred meters. I stayed on his wheel a bit more and then sprinted."
Rabobank joined cycling in 1996, and in their debut Tour Michael Boogerd won a stage for them on stage 6 to Aix-les-Bains.