Moncoutié ready to lead at last

David Moncoutié missed most of 2006 and 2007 due to injury, but made a strong comeback last year. This season he is leading Cofidis in his 13th year as a pro with renewed confidence, after winning the climber's jersey in the 2008 Vuelta a España, but time is running out for the Frenchman to win some big races.

The quiet Moncoutié has long shied away from taking on a leadership position. Last year, Sylvain Chavanel filled that role with brilliance, as Moncoutié acknowledged. "Chavanel was the captain in most races as he was present from February to October." But now the lead role is being shared by a few riders. "In the stage races it will be Amaël Moinard and me. This will give me more responsibility."

Moncoutié has given up his hesitant attitude from earlier years. "I don't have that much time left to put some great races on my palmarès," he said.

He will race at most another couple of seasons. "I don't know yet myself ­ 2009 could be my last year, but I could also ride until 2010. I think I will make the decision after the Tour de France."

He came close to stopping his racing career once before, after two crashes cost him dearly. In 2006, he developed tendonitis and in 2007, he broke a femur. "In 2006 and 2007, I almost didn't ride as I was handicapped by injuries. So you can say this is my second life as a pro."

Dreaming of the Tour de France

Moncoutié worked harder than ever to come back after his injuries. "I have a great desire to win some races." There are several races on his calendar, which starts this week at the Tour Down Under. But being French he can't deny there is one race above all. "Le Tour is the objective number one."

He knows well that the Tour de France is the most competitive race out there. "A top 10 won't be the objective when I start the race, but who knows, with a bit of consistency it is do-able." Moncoutié has another prize in mind. "The climber's polka dot jersey could be a goal as well in the Tour. I have the characteristics for that. It worked well in the Vuelta, even though the Tour [level] is a bit above that."

He will also be looking into winning stages, something with which he has experience. He won stage 11 in 2004 and one year later he achieved every French rider's dream of winning on Bastille Day.

Yet, Moncoutié isn't solely focused on his famous home race. "There are also other great races, like Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Paris-Nice or the Dauphiné, where I would like to do well." Especially the Belgian one-day race, which he tackled three times so far, whets his appetite. His track record isn't the greatest. "I have finished Liège twice and far behind, but the final suits me, and I feel I could be there in the end [this year]." Only the tight racing on narrow Belgian streets isn't his favourite part of the sport. "You have to rub shoulders a bit, mais bon..."

His schedule is jam-packed, all the way until the Tour. "I know it is a lot of racing. But last year I realised I had to race more as I was lacking power. At the end of the Tour, I was getting better, such as in Alpe d'Huez [where he finished 14th]."

By year-end he was feeling great. "At the end of the Vuelta, I was at a level that I had before my two crashes." This capped a year of uncertainty. "2008 was my year of the return. 2009 hopefully is my year of confirmation."

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