Hushovd in yellow for another day
The big names are in action at the Dauphiné. Following the examples of Levi Leipheimer and Alejandro Valverde, George Hincapie won stage two in Vienne. Hincapie anticipated the action of the sprinters and preceded Sébastien Chavanel while Thor Hushovd finished in fifth place and kept his yellow jersey for the time trial.
It was a typical day of racing with with a three men breakaway chased down by the bunch. High Road gave a hand to Crédit Agricole but its plans were totally changed when their top sprinter André Greipel had a flat tyre with 15km to go. "We were working for him for the sprint," said Hincapie. "Until the last five kilometres, that was the plan but with three kilometres to go while riding at 70km/h, we heard from our director Allan Peiper that he was not coming back."
It didn't take long to the American to figure out that he had a personal card to play instead. "I was a little bit sick in the Pyrénées last week," he recalled. "I had no power during the prologue. I felt better yesterday in the lead out for André. Today I took some risk in the last curve. I made a big effort to catch Sebastian (Lang). It worked out. I won, and it was a nice finish."
His anticipation of the bunch sprint marked the end of Sébastien Chavanel's ambitions to win a stage. "I was more surprised by how dangerous the last downhill was than by Hincapie's attack in the final kilometer," the youngest of the Chavanel brothers explained. "Hincapie must have been very strong give the headwind at the end. I was coming across to him, closer and closer, but I missed it by almost nothing. I'm disappointed. I can't enjoy the second place. You know, sprinters always want to win."
It's Hincapie's second win under the colors of High Road after stage seven in the Tour of California. He seems to be enjoying life within his new team. "It's different because we are no longer the favorites of the Tour de France," he said. "But we win more than any other team in the world. We've got guys who can win any kind of race, guys that are good people. We have some of the best sprinters in the world. In my 15th season as a professional, it's nice to give back some of my experience to these young kids."
Now Big George has set his sights on the Tour de France. "For me, I'd love to win another stage at the Tour de France. I hope to have a good Olympics as well," he concluded after a beautiful day of racing in the valley of the Rhône.
Hushovd had mixed feelings about the missed opportunity but enjoyed another day in yellow. He knows it'll probably be the last one as Levi Leipheimer is the favorite for regaining the yellow in Wednesday's time trial in Saint-Paul-en-Jarez. "Hincapie played it well," the Norwegian said. "He was next to me when he attacked, but had I taken his wheel, he would have stopped accelerating immediately, so I had to wait for the whole bunch to catch him. After the work done by my team all day, yesterday and today, I was lacking some kick at the end."
How it unfolded
After less than five kilometres, Stéphane Augé (Cofidis), Benat Albizuri (Euskaltel) and David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval) went clear at the initiative of the Frenchman.
Straight away, the Crédit Agricole team of race leader Thor Hushovd took control of the bunch with mainly two riders: Christophe Le Mével and Pierre Rolland. They allowed the leading trio a maximum advantage of 4'35" set at 25km. At 120km, the gap was 3'40".
At the foot of the fourth category côte de Lupé (134km), Albizuri crashed in a curve. He got back on quickly and rejoined his two companions. De La Fuente was first at the top of the climb ahead of Augé and Albizuri who got dropped and went across before cracking for good.
When High Road came to the front of the bunch and helped Crédit Agricole in the chase, the gap went down to one minute at the foot of the last climb, the côte de la Croix-Régis where De La Fuente preceded Augé while Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto) was the first man of the peloton at 33 seconds.
De La Fuente and Augé got caught with 12km to go. Popovych crashed in the downhill where Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) attacked, followed by Aurélien Passeron (Saunier Duval). Their advantage was only six seconds with eight kilometers to go, and they were caught by a stretch-out peloton.
André Greipel (High Road), who had a flat tyre with 15km to go, got back on but it was too late for making it to the front part of the bunch. Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) attacked with 700 meters to go, George Hincapie (High Road) rejoined him and avoided the massive sprint. He finished one length of a bike ahead of Sébastien Chavanel (Française des Jeux) while Hushovd stayed in yellow and De La Fuente put the polka dot jersey on his shoulders.