By Shane Stokes in Plumelec
Although Kim Kirchen came up a little short on his attempt to win the first stage of the Tour de France, team manager Bob Stapleton was in an upbeat mood after the finish. He praised the effort made by the Luxembourg time trial champion and also by the team in general, saying that everyone pulled together to try to take the victory.
"We had a great chance there," he told Cyclingnews. "Kim rode a great race, the guys did great. You could see them all at the front in the last twenty kilometres. We couldn't be happier with their performance.
"Kim came in fourth but it really didn't matter. We were going for the jersey. Second or third is first or second loser...but he did a great job. I think he showed he is fit and the team is motivated...they rode great. They really controlled the last ten kilometres, and perhaps the last twenty. They are in form, they are doing everything right, but Valverde was just too much for them."
He is optimistic that things will turn Columbia's way soon. "We are going to get our chances in the next few days," he continued. "I don't think we are disappointed at all. I am sure Kim is because he could probably feel it and taste it and thought he was there, until this rocket ship came right past him. Valverde gained 50 metres in the last 100 metres...it was pretty explosive.
"I initially thought that Schumacher might stay away, because those behind were really not organised at all. Kim exploded up to him, but I think he went a bit too early. The finish is pretty deceiving – in the race manual it looks flat in the 200 metres, but it is not...it is still climbing all the way. With the excitement of the finish sign, everybody might have pushed themselves a little too early. Schumacher clearly did, other guys did. But Valverde was there right at the end, looking strong."
Both Stapleton and the riders themselves often mention what they say is great team spirit on the squad. Stapleton said this was reflected in the performance of the riders today, using Adam Hansen's long effort at the front as an example. When asked if that team spirit was down to anything in particular, he suggested that it was partly to do with their beliefs – referring presumably to the anti-doping stance – and also because of the successes that they have forged together.
"I think that the thing that is strongest in the team is the fact that they really like each other, respect each other and they work together," he said. "They really will sacrifice themselves for each other. There is a lot of shared values on the team, they have sort of self-selected [themselves]. They believe in what the team is about, they have been through adversity together, they have raced a lot and had a lot of success.
"There has been a lot of pressure, but also positive rewards in having such success in a group. Thirteen different guys have won races this year, which is unusual, so I think they feel like they have all got chances. When they have a chance, their team-mates will support them as well. So we have been able to keep that balance, and that is what I think makes it a special team.
"Mark [Cavendish] is a great rider, Hincapie is a great rider, we have got great talent, but it is not built around superstars. It is built around team-work and guys who step up with the support of their fellow team-mates."
The finish of stage one featured a 1.7 kilometre climb, averaging 6.1%. This proved too much for the pure sprinters, but Stapleton believes that Cavendish and Gerard Ciolek will have a better chance in the days ahead.