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Piepoli leads Saunier Duval charge on Hautacam

Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Scott)

Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Scott) (Image credit: AFP)

The Saunier Duval-Scott team scored its third stage win with a brilliant 1-2 punch on the slopes of Hautacam, not with the expected attack from its youngster Riccardo Riccò, but with the experienced duo of Leonardo Piepoli and GC hopeful Juan Jose Cobo. It was the first Tour de France stage win for the 36-year-old Piepoli. "I've been waiting my whole life for this," he said, "I'm in heaven!"

"Thank God, tomorrow is a rest day, because I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight." The win was unexpected, as Piepoli wasn't even sure he'd race the Tour. "Cycling is a funny sport; I wasn't planning to come to the Tour this year. My crash and drop-out from the Giro were difficult to overcome; I'd been training since November to be in good shape for that race. Sometimes you focus on a race and the results are disappointing, but then you succeed in another without as much preparation."

Finding himself on the way to a stage victory with his long-time team-mate Cobo at his side, Piepoli said he felt nostalgic. "I've been with him, [David] De la Fuente and 'Litu' [Ángel Gómez] since this team was founded."

When it came to deciding who would take the stage win, there was no contest. "Cobo was really thinking more in the overall," said Piepoli. Cobo is now in eighth overall, and the team's highest placed rider just ahead of Riccò. Piepoli is confident in Cobo's climbing abilities, and although he admits there is a long way to go in the Tour, he said they will try again for a stage win and more time for the overall classification when the race hits the Alps.

"In 2006 [Cobo] lost over 20 minutes on the climb to Plateaux de Beille, otherwise he would have finished in the top five overall."

Piepoli has proven himself as a climber in the Giro d'Italia, where he won two stages in 2006 and the overall mountains classification the next year. He ran into trouble after a urine test following the Monte Zoncolan stage in 2007 turned up high levels of the asthma drug salbutamol, but was cleared of doping charges by the Monaco Cycling Federation because he had a medical exemption to use the drug.

His first Tour stage win on Monday was the result of strong riding all around from the Saunier Duval team. Clearly confident it had some of the best climbers in the race, the squad teamed up with CSC-Saxo Bank on the Col du Tourmalet to shatter the peloton.

Once on the slopes of Hautacam, all eyes were on Riccò as the lead group began the 14.4 kilometre ascent which averages a 7.2% grade, but it was CSC-Saxo Bank's Fränk Schleck who put in the attack which would select the cream of this year's Tour. Piepoli was quick to jump across along with Cobo, Gerolsteiner's Bernhard Kohl and Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale), but as the climb wore on, the two Saunier-Duval riders were able to crack Efimkin, then Kohl and finally Schleck to ride away with first and second.

'Juanjo' Cobo was pleased with the team result, which makes up for a bad day he had in the Cholet time trial on stage four, where he came in 3'45 down on Stefan Schumacher. "After the time-trial I said I was feeling great for this Tour, even when the results hadn't been as good as expected. I've been working so hard for this race, and then I had a bad day. But fortunately, this bad day was the time-trial and not a mountain stage.

"We'd agreed with Piepoli and Fränk Schleck to hit the finish line together, because the three of us were interested in this stage, but Schleck couldn't keep the pace and Leo and I did the rest. My initial goal was finishing the Tour in the top ten; given our leap today, I think we can go one up on that, but let's take it one day at a time, right?"

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