Le Mével, the "invalid" who can race

By Jean-François Quénet in Carcassonne Prior to the start of stage 12 , Thor Hushovd reminded his...

By Jean-François Quénet in Carcassonne

Prior to the start of stage 12, Thor Hushovd reminded his French team-mate Christophe Le Mével of something: "I won on the Norwegian national day (on May 17 in the Tour of Catalunya), it's up to you today!" The Breton rider from Crédit Agricole was happy to escape on Bastille Day but he quickly understood there was no hope for a stage. "Maybe it could have worked if I wasn't the only Frenchman in that group of four," Le Mével explained. "These guys were talking a lot!"

He knew that Yaroslav Popovych, Alessandro Ballan and Oscar Freire were too strong for him to repeat his stage win from the Giro d'Italia last year. "I didn't feel very good," he said. "My legs were hurting badly. There were all faster than me in sprinting and I probably had used up too much power in the first breakaway. I'm from Brittany, I don't cope with the heat! It's still a positive attitude to be in a breakaway at the Tour de France but my assessment of the stage isn't a top one. Finishing fourth out of four is pretty disappointing, actually."

Le Mével is a rookie at the Tour de France. He became known for the fact that his 20th birthday was on September 11th at the 2001 Tour de l'Avenir. The following year he crashed badly at the Four Days of Dunkirk. His sciatic nerve was totally severed and his recovery took a long time. In fact, the French welfare system still rates him as partially disabled for work. He can't run, for example, but he can cycle.

Last year, he amazed the journalists at the Giro d'Italia when he announced in a press conference his relationship with Laura, an Italian brunette who was assisting cycling photographer Roberto Bettini. His family back home didn't know about that and were informed via the press. Now Laura still follows him at the Tour de France and the couple attracted a lot of media attention at the time of the world cup soccer final, Italy vs. France.

Not surprisingly, Le Mével rooms with Pietro Caucchioli. "Italy is my second country, he said. But I still love mine as well. It would have been fantastic to win on Bastille Day, but it was definitely not possible."

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