By Jean-François Quénet in Banting, Malaysia
The current leader of the Tour de Langkawi with the German sounding name, Frenchman Mathieu Sprick (Bouygues Telecom), shares many of same traits as his compatriot, Thomas Voeckler, not least his passion for riding in yellow. Hailing from the Alsace region but now living in Molsheim near Strasbourg, Sprick, much like the hero of the 2004 Tour de France, defines himself as "average everywhere, super nowhere". It sounds very much like something Voeckler would say but Sprick needed a win to boost his confidence as he was improving quite a lot since his first win at the Tour du Doubs during his first pro season. His second came after he surprised his breakaway companions on Saturday on the way to Kepala Batas at Le Tour de Langkawi.
"Three years without a single win is a long time", he admitted. "We are competitors. Not winning is frustrating although I've had other satisfactions acting as a domestique. Now I'm happy to see that the work done this winter pays off. One of the reasons why I haven't won much in the past two years is that I've had a program made of 70 to 80% of ProTour races, including the Tour de France where I've realized how much we have to push our limits in a three weeks race. No win is easy to get but it's still easier at Le Tour de Langkawi than at the Tour of the Basque country for example."
It's a complete different story for Bouygues Telecom this year than in 2007 when they had to wait for the end of April before they welcomed a first victory by Saïd Haddou at the Tro Bro Leon. "As we already collected five wins so far, the spirit in the team is better", Sprick explained in Setiawan at the start of stage 3 of Le Tour de Langkawi. "There's more serenity. Everybody has put himself in question during the off-season. Here are the results now."
The announcement of Bouygues Telecom extending its sponsorship for two more years might also have liberated Jean-René Bernaudeau's riders from the pressure they had before. "We were worried, that's right", Sprick said. "We didn't know our sponsor and also the others would react to the different scandals in cycling. It's good to feel the confidence that our sponsor has put in us again."
Cofidis, Française des Jeux and Bouygues Telecom, respectively have announced that they would keep backing their team beyond 2008. "I believe the sponsors have understood the good work done in the French teams against doping and that have given them the will to continue with us. That's a good feeling", Sprick added.