After his stellar win on Alpe d'Huez in 2003, things got a little quiet around Iban Mayo. Hailed as the next contender for a Tour de France victory, his engine frequently broke down in the mountainous stages of the Grande Boucle. But in this year's edition the Basque rider, who left Euskaltel for Saunier Duval at the end of last season, has not cracked yet in the mountains and in fact had a great performance in the first really difficult stage that featured 70 kilometres of uphill.
Being in the group with all the contenders for the overall, Mayo was attentive and he and Alejandro Valverde were usually the ones to bring back Christophe Moreau, who showed his aggressiveness on the final climb, attacking so any times it was hard to keep track of. Mayo felt good and in the end was able to leave the group behind, gained half a minute over the chaser including Valverde, and was rewarded with 12 bonus seconds for the second place he achieved after winner Michael Rasmussen, who had taken off earlier in the day. Many consider Rasmussen not a threat for the overall due to his inferior time trialing skills.
Saunier Duval's strong showing was rounded out by Juanjo Cobo, who came in 13th, a little over a minute after his leader.
Iban Mayo was very clear about his ambitions after the race. "To tell you the truth, I was hoping to be in the lead, because yesterday I felt fine. But the Tour is a treacherous race, and you can never be 100 percent sure." The Spaniard confirmed that "in the early kilometres I could see that I was OK, so I knew I´d be fighting for a leading position."
One thing he knew for sure was that when "Rasmussen broke clear and began to open a gap, I realised that winning the stage was going to be extremely difficult. Before the final climb, his advantage was so huge that victory was no longer a possibility to me."
He described the beginning of the action with Moreau being the first to attack, but also felt that "Evans, Contador, Kashechkin, and Schleck didn't seem to be willing to cooperate." He acknowledged that there was a headwind and the best position was in the draft. But it didn't go unnoticed that "Moreau was riding too easily."
Mayo revealed that "after having been through such a bad patch in the last editions of the Tour, being here, safe and sound, smells like victory to me," and that his major goal is a stage win, although "of course, the GC is tempting; stepping onto the final podium would be very nice."
Knowing that the Tour is a difficult race, however, he'll take it day by day and says the most important is "keeping this feeling, the sensations I felt today."
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