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French attackers don't wait for the third week anymore

The break of the day

The break of the day (Image credit: AFP)

By Jean-François Quénet in Châteauroux

French champion Nicolas Vogondy put on a strong showing for the locals in Châteauroux, on the same boulevard where he won the Classic de l'Indre in 2006 beside the Gaston-Petit football stadium. Part of the three-man breakaway launched after 11 kilometres, he was the only one to go flat out alongside the barricades while his companions, Lilian Jégou and Florent Brard, sat up with 1.5 kilometres to go.

"There were some cobbles that literally stopped me!" Jégou said of the finishing straight. "I couldn't follow him. I had no hope that our breakaway would succeed anyhow once we only had two minutes lead with 50 kilometres to go. We talked and decided to play with the bunch by slowing down. We targeted the check point of 25 kilometres to go. From there on we went flat out again. And it worked - we gained 20 seconds in five kilometres."

Time checks are now only given every five kilometres in the last 25 of each stage, something that played into the escapees' hands. "I really believed we had a chance to ride for the win as I turned back and couldn't see the bunch behind us," continued Jégou, the first attacker of the 2008 Tour de France who jumped away just in the outskirts of Brest on stage one.

"Last year I preserved myself for the third week of the Tour," Jégou remembered. "And I had no opportunity to do anything during the third week. I didn't have a bad Tour but I finished it anonymously." He had to wait for the Tour du Limousin in August to claim his first pro win in a stage race.

French riders have been very active at the Tour de France so far this year. "The teams of the sprinters don't rule the race as much as they used to do," said Brard. "There's more to play. When we take the ear pieces off, it'll be an even better spectacle."

Vogondy hopes persistent attacking will work for him one day as well, as it did at the French championship. "When I attacked with 1.5 kilometres to go, I gave everything," he said. "I didn't calculate anything. I haven't missed much but I've missed the most important! Last year I got caught once with 300 metres to go, this year it's with only 50 metres to go, maybe next year I'll make it against the chasing bunch."

While Jégou found himself at home in Cholet on Tuesday, in the neighbourhood of Nantes where he hails from, Brard and Vogondy finished stage five near to their respective native towns of Tours and Blois. It's part of the folklore of the Tour de France to see local riders under the spotlights.

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