By Shane Stokes
Although Saunier Duval climbing specialist Gilberto Simoni lost 4 minutes and 10 seconds in finishing 18th on Thursday's big mountain stage of the Tour de France, the Spanish team were nevertheless very happy with the day. David De La Fuente impressed greatly, being involved in a long-distance breakaway and only being caught inside the final 30 kilometres. He earned the award for the most combative rider and, more importantly, was first over the Hors Categorie Col du Tourmalet plus the first cat Col De Peyresourde and Col Du Portillon.
This, together with the points gathered via his second place on the Col d'Aspin, ensured that the 25 year old is now the clear leader in the mountains classification. He has 80 points, 18 more than previous leader Cyril Dessel (AG2R-Prevoyance) and a further one up on his breakaway companion of the day, Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner). Last year's winner Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) is back in 4th with 49 points and may find himself sacrificing his KOM chances in order to help Denis Menchov challenge for the yellow jersey.
Speaking after the stage, team manager Mauro Gianetti was very happy with De La Fuente's ride. "He is an extremely tough rider, a big engine with incredible power," he stated. "What he did today is fantastic and he should wear the mountains jersey for the next few days. This morning, I was very happy to agree on a contract with him for 2007."