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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Nicki Sörensen (Team Saxo Bank) is the winner of the Tour's twelfth stage.
A catalyst for Schleck in the Alps?
Sometimes the seeds of victory can be difficult to pinpoint. On occasion they're sown deep within the tactical battles and confidence of riders rather than the overt strength of exploits on mountain passes. Perhaps Nicki Sörensen's tactically savvy stage win in Vittel could be the launching pad for Saxo Bank to take the Tour by the scruff of the neck and defend its title as last year's most successful Tour team.
Why should a solo win on a transition stage through sleepy French countryside become such a factor in the overall batter for yellow? Just two days ago Saxo Bank, a squad that prides itself on team togetherness - they shot hand guns and plunged into freezing lakes during the off-season - suffered a monumental blow when Kurt-Asle Arvesen was forced out of the race.
While Arvesen wasn't a contender for final victory in Paris, his forced retirement due to a collar bone break will have touched the Danish squad to the bone. Arvesen has of course been an integral part of the team for a number of years, helping to guide both Schlecks through the ranks, while also remaining one of the most amiable riders in the peloton. Moments before his crash he was on the front of the peloton joking with some of his rather more deadpan colleagues.
In fact, Saxo Bank's team spokesman, Brian Nygaard, summed it up perfectly in the frantic moments after the Norwegian climbed onto a bus headed towards the hospital."He was our road captain. We'll hope for the best but assume the worst."
And so the worst unfolded, with Saxo Bank dropping down to just eight riders before a set of mammoth stages in the Alps starting tomorrow as the race winds up towards Colmar.
Yet today's win, courtesy of the shy and unassuming Sörensen, could be the catalyst in Saxo Bank rediscovering its flair, panache and confidence. The Danish rider, although using few words and thumping out the age-old cliché "It's something I'll carry with me forever. To win a sage is a dream," could have planted the seed for the team's recovery and Andy Schleck's bid for victory.
The win obviously meant a lot to the team, with a nervous Nygaard standing with the press in the final stages, watching as his rider crossed the line and then walking to greet Sörensen amidst a chorus of back-slapping from other team spokespersons.
In his winner's press conference Sörensen added that he'd "managed to keep his cool" despite the frantic chase from behind. One might add that he was chasing away the ghost of Arvesen's loss on his way to victory, too.