By Jean-François Quénet in Briançon
Former Tour de France winner Bernard Thévenet was a Giro d'Italia special guest in Briançon, for the conclusion of stage 12. He always likes to come back in the neighbourhood of the Col d'Izoard where he consolidated his yellow jersey the day after he dethroned the great Eddy Merckx in 1975. He remembers that he met Louison Bobet at the start of that stage. The winner of the 1953, 1954 and 1955 Tours, a Breton, told him, "You become a big champion when you climb the Izoard with the yellow jersey."
Thévenet did it as Bobet before. In the Casse Déserte of the Izoard, a double plaque remembers both Bobet and Fausto Coppi. Another Breton was almost the first cyclist of the Giro to pass nearby Bobet's memorial. Yoann Le Boulanger from Bouygues Telecom had escaped at kilometre 14 with his compatriot Christophe Riblon from Ag2r. The French riders looked motivated for entering first on home soil.
"We even wanted to win the stage, Bouygues Telecom's directeur sportif Philippe Mauduit explained. Unfortunately, the big riders started fighting half an hour too early for us. They rode hard since the beginning of the Colle dell'Agnello.
"Had the breakaway been a four or five-man group it would have changed the situation, because Yoann could have started the Izoard with two or three guys swapping turns. He was on a false rhythm, not totally sure of how hard he had to push."
The Breton was climbing well though. He was awarded the special Cima Coppi prize that designates the rider passing first at the highest climb of the race, the 2744-metre Colle dell'Agnello. Bouygues' team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau was impressed by that. "So, this is the equivalent of the Henri Desgranges trophy in the Tour de France!" he realized.
On his way back from the podium ceremony, Le Boulanger was congratulated by Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme who said he was hoping for him to keep his seventh place on the stage. "I was happy that I was able to stay with Stefano Garzelli for a while", Le Boulanger said. He's now 27th on the general classification and could discreetly move into top 15 as Patrice Halgand from Crédit Agricole did last year.
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