By Brecht Decaluwé in Loudenvielle - Le Louron
Luxembourger Kim Kirchen held tough on a brutal day in the Pyrénées, where he was one of the last survivors of the breakaway and took second behind the rampaging Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov. The result gave his German T-Mobile another high on a rollercoaster Tour which saw the team hold yellow, lose its GC leader Michael Rogers to a crash and another rider, Patrick Sinkewitz receive notice of a antidoping positive test for testosterone.
The team's replacement GC-rider, Kirchen was riding in 10th overall until he had a rough first day in the Pyrénées on Sunday, where he ran into difficulty on the climb towards the Plateau de Beille. "Kim [Kirchen] didn't have a great day yesterday," directeur sportif Rolf Aldag said to Cyclingnews. "He was still there in the first group, even after guys like Popovych dropped back but then they hit the last climb with full gas after the long downhill and that killed him," Aldag reflected on Sunday's stage.
The Luxembourgian bounced back from his setback and managed to join the early escape on Monday. In that big breakaway group the unpredictable Alexandre Vinokourov featured as well, and on the hors categorie Col de Peyresourde, the final climb of the day, 'Vino' accelerated a couple of times and dropped David Arroyo, Kirchen and eventually also Juan Jose Cobo and Haimar Zubeldia (13th in GC).
Kirchen didn't try to follow the accelerations from the Kazakh powerhouse and maintained his own rhythm. Just before the top of the Peyresourde he came back on Zubeldia. The duo wasn't strong enough to catch Vinokourov, forcing them to sprint for second place. Kirchen started the sprint and easily held off the Euskaltel rider.
At the finish line Cyclingnews asked Kirchen if he was happy with a second place. "I had very good legs and was very concentrated and I think I couldn't do better today," Kirchen reacted. "You might say that I finished second again," Kirchen referred to his second place in 2004 behind Hushovd, "but behind a champion like him that is fantastic, doing better was impossible. He has a lot of experience and the real panache and obviously he's still a big champ," Kirchen complimented today's winner.
With today's second place Kirchen returns to the top ten overall, and that's a goal for the T-Mobile rider. "It wasn't an objective before the Tour but now that I'm back up there, I want to stay there. There's one more mountains stage coming up but luckily there's a rest day tomorrow, I can use it," Kirchen pointed out that his legs were tired.
After the doping confessions from former Telekom riders and the positive doping test for T-Mobile's Patrick Sinkewitz there was a lot of negative media attention for the German team. Some riders were ready to pack their bags as they couldn't cope with the mounting pressure, but after an internal team meeting the team decided to go on and battle. "The team is very good, also the ambience within the team. [After the Sinkewitz incident] the riders stayed together. The manager [Bob Stapleton] is behind everybody. It's a really great team and I hope it will continue next year," Kirchen referred to the possible doubts from sponsors T-Mobile and Adidas.
It was clear the Luxembourgian had enough of the assumptions being made towards some riders when he was asked if he felt that the peloton didn't feel comfortably with the doping accusations towards yellow jersey Michael Rasmussen. "I want to focus on my race and I'm not really interested in what the other riders do," Kirchen said.