By Brecht Decaluwè
All is well for Discovery Channel after stage 14, with brilliant performances by Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Yaroslav Popovich. Cyclingnews talked with the team before the start and got first reactions after the stage.
After two weeks in the Tour de France the peloton hit the Pyrénées, the chain of mountains separating France and Spain, will likely separate the wheat from the chaff. Many Spaniards were aiming on success near their homeland but when the peloton hit the ultimate climb to the Plateau de Beille they were gasping for breath as a train of Rabobank and Discovery Channel riders maintained a high pace.
Michael Boogerd and Yaroslav Popovych were the last to take a pull and then a firework of attacks followed even though there were more than seven kilometres to cover before the summit. There was only man who could respond to an acceleration by Alberto Contador with six kilometres to go, and it was yellow jersey Michael Rasmussen from the Rabobank squad. The two worked their way to the top where the young Contador outsprinted Rasmussen and grabbed his first ever Tour de France stage win. It was the first win for Discovery Channel in this Tour de France and the first Spanish winner in this Tour.
The young Spaniard - Alberto Contador Velasco in full - was delighted with his victory. "It's a dream come true, a stage win in the Tour de France," Contador smiled. "This was so impressive," he continued, "with all those people along the side of the road. I want to thank everybody who supported me, my team and my family and everybody who was also there in the bad times," Contador said. The Spaniard had a huge clot in his brain after a crash in the Vuelta de Asturia back in 2004.
He overcame this life-threatening situation and returned to the scene in 2005 with a stage win in the Tour Down Under and he continued his recovery by also taking stages in the Tour of the Basque Country and the Tour de Romandie. He ended his first Tour de France in 31st position and looked forward to do better in 2006. That was impossible as Contador and his Liberty Seguros team weren't allowed to start because of the Operación Puerto.
He was a victim of speculation because soon after the Tour de France he was cleared. The Spanish climber didn't regret that missed chance too much. "It's a pleasant surprise to be in this situation now if you compare it with last year," Contador said at the post-race press conference, "but after that incident I focused on the new season and a new Tour de France." The talented climber did that in style by becoming the first Spanish winner of Paris-Nice since Miguel Indurain and by winning the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon.
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