Boonen blasts in Castres for second win

Fédrigo and Txurruka caught in final kilometre

Tom Boonen blasted to his second success in the 2007 Tour de France after the peloton charged down the Montée de la Jeante and into Castres to capture the day's escape. Pierrick Fédrigo (Bouygues Telecom) and Amets 'The Kid' Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) tried their hardest but were no match to the pace making of the sprinters' teams and were caught with one kilometre to race. Quick.Step's Steegmans led Boonen to the line for his second win in this Tour while Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) stayed tucked safely in the pack to maintain his 2'35" advantage over Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne).

The win in Castres came exactly one week after Boonen's first win in the 2007 Tour in Bourg-en-Bresse and added points to the Maillot Vert that he wore so proudly crossing the finish line on the Avenue Charles de Gaulle. For the 2005 World Champion, who went winless in the 2006 Tour even though he had the Maillot Jaune, his second win in the 2007 Tour is a huge satisfaction and a giant boost for taking the sprinter's green jersey home after the final day in Paris. Thanks to the effort today, he now leads the competition by 20 points over Hunter.

The win gave Quick.Step its fourth win in the Tour de France after those of Steegmans (Gent), Vasseur (Marseille) and Boonen's previous victory. Team Manager Patrick Lefevere must have been proud of his team's final march after the earlier muscling of Française Des Jeux and Lampre-Fondital that resulted in Fédrigo and Txurruka being nailed back at one kilometre remaining.

Quick.Step led the charge down the right hand side with Tankink and then Steegmans for Boonen. Behind the 2005 World Champion followed Erik Zabel (Milram), yesterday's winner Robert Hunter (Barloworld), Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) and Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas). Boonen's look-alike, Steegmans, took over from five hundred metres remaining.

Although Crédit Agricole's Julian Dean looked perfectly perched to lead-out Thor Hushovd it was German Zabel and South African Robert Hunter that swarmed Boonen on the right (second) and left (third), respectively. Boonen threw his arms in the air to celebrate Tour win number sixth by a half-wheel's length over the trailing duo.

"With the victory of today I am perfectly motivated to take the green jersey to Paris... After the rest day, there is a very long and hard mountain stage that will be tough. ... I am better than 2005, when I won the Worlds, and that is going to be necessary for next week."

Daniele Bennati and Sébastien Chavanel did not fully profit from the work of their teams. 'Benna' nabbed fourth over Hushovd and Eisel, while Chavanel took seventh with Jalabert, Förster and Kashechkin completing the top ten.

'The Kid' Txurruka took home the Prix de la Combativité for most aggressive rider after his escape with Frenchman Fédrigo. The duo formed its move 57 kilometres into the race but was running out of gas after crossing over the category two Montée de la Jeante with only 5'15" in hand. Fédrigo, stage winner in 2006, equally traded pulls with the Basque along the River Durenque leading to the finish but their gap was squashed to less than 20 seconds by Lagarrigue, with four kilometres remaining.

"The peloton did not let go of a big group, so that is why we only had two of us up front," remarked Fédrigo. "The wind did not blow in our advantage; the head wind did it for us." He added with a smile, "I had fun today."

Rasmussen finished with yellow on his back and a huge weight on his shoulders. The Dane may be leading the race on the time classification but with the honour has come an onslaught of allegations to his where-abouts during pre-Tour training resulting in missed controls.

"I believe I am the most controlled riders in the Tour," commented the 33 year-old race leader. He was asked how much the allegations have affected his riding. "This much," he responded as he indicated a tiny space between his fingers.

Rasmussen will likely lose the race lead with tomorrow's time trial in Albi but the magnifying glass above cycling will not go away as the quest for cleaner competition continues.

How It Unfolded

Friday’s hot twelfth stage started in Montpellier, capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, and was another transitional stage which took the riders inland from the Mediterranean coast to the textile town of Castres.

It was slightly overcast when the stage began at 12:58, and this lowered the temperatures slightly to the low 30’s for the 168 riders taking the start. The action began right away with eight riders hitting out, namely Axel Merckx (T-Mobile), Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Juan Manuel Gárate (Quickstep-Innergetic), Inaki Isasi (Euskaltel Euskadi), Daniel Navarro (Astana) and Ralf Grabsch (Milram).

As they attacked, Alberto Ongarato (Milram) crashed and had to abandon with a suspected broken collarbone. The gap for the 8 escapees grew to 20", but they were all pulled back after 20km. At this point another move went with Bernhard Eisel (T-Mobile), Francisco Perez (Caisse d’Epargne), Juan Manuel Gárate and Christian Moreni (Cofidis) but they came back fast before the first KOM of the day, the fourth category Côte de Cantagal.

This 1.6km, 4.3 % climb topped out 27.5 kilometres after the start. At the top, it was Philippe Gilbert (Française Des Jeux) who took the points ahead of David Millar (Saunier Duval - Prodir). Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis) was third.

The acceleration provoked a counter-attack of seven riders, including Millar, Scheirlinckx, Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital), Laurent Lefèvre (Bouygues Telecom), Manuel Beltrán (Liquigas), Matteo Tosatto (Quickstep-Innergetic) and Moisés Dueñas (Agritubel). They did what they could to build a decent lead but this escape came to an end after 35 kilometres

43.4 kilometres were covered in the first hour of racing and things remained relatively quiet until the 57 kilometre point, when Amets Txurruca (Euskaltel Euskadi) and Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues Telecom) attacked one kilometre from the summit of the second KOM of the day, the fourth category Côte du Mas-Rouet. They got a good gap and remained clear after a chasing group containing John Gadret (Ag2r Prévoyance), Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel Euskadi), Christophe Le Mével (Crédit Agricole), Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and Juan Manuel Garate was caught.

Ten kilometres later the leading duo’s advantage had ballooned to 3'15" and this jumped to ten minutes by the time Txurruka led over the fourth category Col du Buis, a 2.6km climb at a 4.8% grade.

Big Markus Burghardt (T-Mobile) jumped clear of the peloton before the top to nab the points for third and then continued on to try to bridge up to the front duo. Fedrigo took the two sprints in Herepian after 81.5km and Olargues after 101km and after the second of these, with 77 kilometres remaining, the lead was 8'30". Burghardt was still trying hard and got halfway across, but he finally ran out of gas near the tiny village of Riols, 64 kilometres from the line, and sat up.

As the final climb of the day, the 2nd Cat. Montée de la Jeante approached after 120 kilometres of racing, Liquigas moved to the front and ramped up the pace. However Fedrigo, the winner of Tour stage fourteen in 2006, and the young Basque climber Txurruca were riding well together and their gap was still over seven minutes.

The French/Basque combination kept plugging away and atop the 10.4 km Jeante ascent, they still had 5'15" in hand with some 48km to go. Liquigas had left it to Caisse d'Epargne and Discovery Channel to keep the chasing going as a headwind picked up.

Over the next 15km, the road rolled up and down through a deep pine forest before the descent towards Castres. It was at this point that Lampre-Fondital hit the front to try and bring the break back for their sprinter Daniele Benatti. Big Marzio Bruseghin and Daniele Righi were pulling hard and were joined by Française de Jeux.

The gap then fell rapidly and, as the descent began with 20km to go, was down to 2'08". That meant it was going to be close as to whether the break would be pulled back or not, as there were only nine kilometres of flat roads between the base of the descent and the finish in Castres.

The pursuit match was on. As Castres grew closer, the sprinters’ teams were pounding hard in a bid to pull back the break. Quick.Step, Lampre and Credit Agricole were all chasing the two men up front and this was eating into their lead. With five kilometres to go the gap was half a minute and falling, and with two clicks to go it was only eight seconds. Finally, with 1200 metres left before the line, the break was caught after some 134 kilometres of freedom.

Quick.Step was clearly in charge with Tom Boonen sitting third wheel as the final 500 meters approached. Steegmans launched hard around that point and delivered a perfect leadout for Boonen, who looked to have an extra gear thanks to the boost of wearing the maillot vert.

Boonen took off right up the middle of Avenue Charles DeGaulle and quickly got a bike length’s lead on the riders behind. Erik Zabel tried to sneak by on the right as Robbie Hunter went on the left. Both came up on Boonen in the final meters but not soon enough to prevent the Quick.Step Innergetic rider solidifying his lead in the competition for the green jersey.

Stage 13: Saturday 21 July - Albi-Albi Individual Time Trial / 54 km

After two weeks of racing, the race of truth in Albi will make another important selection towards determining who will win the 2007 Tour De France. A twisty, tricky out and back time test, Stage 13 could prove unlucky for riders who are not competent at the discipline.

The first 20 kilometres are a gradual uphill, then the course is downhill and flat until the 34 kilometre point, where the four kilometre climb up the sinuous Cat. 4 Côte de la Bauzie' awaits. Then there is a difficult descent and return to Albi on the D999 road where an experienced tester can make a difference.

CSC's London prologue winner and World TT champion is probably the favourite to win, while Astana's Kloden also a rider who may have a good chance to take the stage. But the race for the Maillot Jaune is the key to the test and will show which riders truly have a chance to land victory in the 2007 Tour De France.

Current Maillot Jaune Michael Rasmussen is a pure climber and claims to have done little work on his time trial skills. Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde is in second on GC, 2'35" behind Rasmussen while Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval – Prodir) is at 2’39” and Predictor's Cadel Evans is fourth, two seconds further back.

Top Astana rider Kloden is sitting sixth at 3'50" while Discovery Channel has Levi Leipheimer at 3'53", and don't forget T-Mobile's Kim Kirchen in 9th on GC, 5'06" behind.

Valverde and Evans have the best chance to take over the Maillot Jaune, as conventional wisdom sees Rasmussen losing 4" per kilometre to good time trialists over the 54km distance. That's 216 seconds, or 3'36" which puts both riders well within striking distance.

It's not likely that either Klodi or Levi can take the Maillot Jaune, but with strong rides, they can move up on GC and remain in the hunt for the Tour title. CSC's duo of Carlos Sastre and Franck Schleck have to have excellent rides if they expect to contend for the final Tour win in Paris.

Valverde has improved much in time trialling over the past few years, but his best performances have come at shorter distances. Cadel Evans may find himself in the maillot jaune Saturday evening, but don't be surprised if he's not that far ahead of Rabobanker Rasmussen, who really has something to prove at this years Tour De France.

Km 38.5: Côte de la Bauzie': 4km climb @ 3.4 % grade / 4th Cat.

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