Sergio Paulinho earned the crowning moment of his cycling career on the 179km stage to Gap today, becoming only the fourth Portuguese rider to win a stage at the Tour de France. Previous winners from that country include Joaquim Agostinho (four times between 1969 and 1979), Paulo Ferreira (in 1984) and Acacio Da Silva (three times between 1987 and 1989)
"This is the most important victory of my career," said the 30-year-old, who created a big surprise when he got the silver medal at the 2004 Olympic road race in Athens behind Paolo Bettini. "A stage win at the Tour de France is the dream of every bike rider and I finally managed to make it come true. It's more important in my mind than the Olympic medal."
"I wanted to get something like this for my daughter Beatriz who is eight months old."
Vasil Kiryienka (Caisse d'Epargne) was heavily favoured in the two-man sprint finish as former a world champion in the points race on the track but Paulinho said that he knew he was faster than his foe. "I tried to see where he was passing me. I had the sprint under control."
"This win is very important for the team as well," Paulinho continued. "We've been looking for that for a while. After the bad luck we've had in the first week, I hope this brings some good morale back to the team. Lance Armstrong's morale is quite good I think. If he hadn't had such bad luck, he could be fighting to win the Tour."
Paulinho was part of the six-man move that racked up a 14-minute lead on the peloton by the line, but interestingly Paulinho didn't break away just to win. Someone from RadioShack had to follow Kiryienka in the breakaway since the American outfit has made the team classification, now led by Caisse d'Epargne, one of its main goals.
"Our tactic today was to ride for the team classification," Paulinho explained in Gap. "I wasn't designated more than any other rider from RadioShack, but one of us had to be in the breakaway group."
Having gained more than fourteen minutes over Astana and Rabobank, RadioShack and Caisse d'Epargne have initiated another duel at the Tour de France. It's not only about Schleck and Contador, who are separated by 41 seconds. The Spanish outfit has a 31 second lead over the American team.
Paulinho was a friend of Alberto Contador who left Astana to join rival team RadioShack. "I still have a very good relationship with Alberto," the Portuguese said. "He remains my friend. We talk a lot. But when I received a very good offer from RadioShack I had to think of my future." Although Paulinho's move was seen by many observers as an act of treachery, Contador explained that it was simply because he had nothing to offer to Paulinho at the time Johan Bruyneel made his offer.