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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Cycling News Extra for July 16, 2004

Edited by John Stevenson

McEwen cuts through to defend green

By John Trevorrow

Robbie McEwen still in green
Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

Summer finally hit France today with temperatures hitting the 30s, and there was also plenty of heat in the final 500m of the stage.

With three riders up the road, the sprinters were lining up for the remaining points for the green jersey. Robbie McEwen had pulled out all stops to stay with the front group but the steep climb in the final 450 metres was going to test him. Just before that mark McEwen clashed with a rider who lost control and went as close to falling as is possible without hitting the tarmac. He lost momentum and about 30 positions while at the same time his main challenger for green, Erik Zabel was on his way, charging towards the line. McEwen put in the sprint of his career to race past nearly 30 riders to close the gap and finish next to Zabel.

"I hate this area. The guy in front of me almost lost it and I had to suddenly react to avoid him. I went so close to crashing five hundred metres out and ended up with both feet out of the pedals and crashed down on top tube. I got my feet in quickly and had to go again. I had to sprint full-on for 400 hundred metres over the hill. That taken into consideration I think if I can give them 30 places head-start and bring it back to two, then I am pleased. But my knee has been killing me today. A couple of times on the stage I didn't think I would make it. If it wasn't for team-mate Thierry Marichal I wouldn't be here."

O'Grady's team spirit

Meanwhile, ahead of the sprint points scrum, Cofidis rider David Moncoutié had soloed in ahead of breakaway companions Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) and Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel - Euskadi). Cofidis' Aussie sprinter Stuart O'Grady was ecstatic with his team-mate's win.

"It was brilliant. If anyone ever deserves to win a stage then it's Moncoutié,"said O'Grady. "He's a very talented bike rider and for us to have two stage wins already in this tour is just awesome."

O'Grady, however, found the going tough today. "It was a hard day in the heat, one of the worst days I've suffered on Tour. I was up there nearing the finish and just behind Robbie when he just about hit whoever was in front of him but luckily for both of us he didn't fall. He certainly got some anger going to get back up there."

Sunderland chases the breaks

Scott Sunderland
Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

Scott Sunderland (Alessio-Bianchi) looks to be getting stronger each day, and spent stage 12 seeing if he could get into something that would stick - and that wasn't the stuff he was riding over.

"On the first hill I got away with a group that included most of the big hitters and the yellow," said Sunderland. "I went with another three or four breaks after that but they all got caught."

"I just kept getting stuck to the road today," he added. "The road was melting that much it was like riding on flypaper."

Sunderland also had a grandstand view of the incident that almost took out Robbie McEwen. "I was lining up for the sprint and I saw Robbie pull his foot out and he went so close to going down," he said. "Stuey nearly hit him and they both did a really good job to not crash."

Bad day for Wilson

Matt Wilson looked distressed as he crossed the line. "I think I've got some sort of virus or something," he said. "I've been throwing up all day."

Morning banter in the start village

Mick Rogers (Quick.Step-Davitamon) was straightforward in his assessment of stage 10. "It was a bloody hard day actually," he said. "I suppose it didn't look super hard, but the pace was always on behind. On the steep climb everyone just pretty much stopped. But I was feeling pretty good. I went over the top in the first split there, in the top fifteen or so. So I think that I'm starting to come good, though."

What was it like? Seemed like everyone was trying to flex their muscles a bit.

"We saw quite a big gap open up. Although no-one slacked off, it was a good pace throughout. As you saw fifteen or twenty of us rode off then another forty or so came back on the descent."

Where you hoping to get some time yesterday or was it not that type of stage?

"No it wasn't that type of stage. With what Virenque did was a bit of a kamikaze move, it was either going to come off really well or fail. Luckily it paid off; obviously he was so strong yesterday. Physically and mentally, he could have just given up so many times, when the group was just a few seconds behind for so long. But he just kept soldiering on and pulled off a win."

What were you able to take from that cat 1 climb with your form?

"Some good confidence. Nobody really hit the gas but the pace was really good. For me to be able to stay there in the top fifteen or twenty means that my legs must be pretty good."

What was the mood of the group going over the cat 1 climb?

"Not much talk and a fair bit of panting going on, especially yesterday, as it was a bit hot. It was a hard day. All day it wasn't too fast but it was a good constant pace. Especially after the first week, everyone's tired now so I think there'll be some bigger gaps opening in the next few days."

What will be your plan, go to the front and stay there as long as possible?

"I'm going to try to get in the break today. It might be a good opportunity with everyone being tired from yesterday so I might be able to get a little bit of time. But obviously the bigger picture is on the real mountain stages so it's a big week coming up."

With your team-mate Richard Virenque going for the king of the mountains, are they still looking at you for the general classification?

"Yeah they are. The plan before the tour was for me to try to do as well as I could in the classification. Unfortunately I lost a bit of time in a couple of crashes I had but it's a long Tour and I still think there are some important stages left."

Cookie's sprinter's angle

As a sprinter, Baden Cooke (Fdjeux.com) has a rather different perspective on stage 10. For the fast-twitch crew, the objective was mostly survival. So what about that cat 1 climb?

"It was hard," said Cooke. "The hardest part was the pace. They were just going absolutely ape shit, so fast. Guys attacking at full speed, just the whole wheel was incredible. You're putting out ridiculous amounts of blocks and you've still got 200km to go."

You can't let go?

"We knew when we could let go. We knew when we got to the cat 1 we could ride slowly into the finish. So I knew my race was to the bottom of the cat. 1. I punctured before the cat. 2 and that sort of put a bit of a dint in me because I really had to give a lot to get back on before the hill."

What's the plan for today?

"A Small sprint is possible today, if not a small break."

What about Zabel's ride in stage 10?

"Interesting. He'd be pissed that his own team-mate rolled him wouldn't he? Imagine if he lost the green jersey by two points."

Cooke's team-mate Matt Wilson described stage 10 as "Incredible. I can't describe how fast we were going. You thought you were feeling good, on top of your form, and all you can do is look at the wheel in front of you. It's just that fast and you look over on the other side of the road and there are riders attacking. Everyone's at their limit, there'd be a handful of guys that are going up the front. It's just incredible how fast they go."

One out of the box?

"Well it's been like that a lot of days. Yesterday especially the terrain was so hard at the start and it was just so relentless. Everything was escaping at 60kph and I think Virenque was in every one of them. Inhuman!"

Today?

"I think today's going to be similar at the start. There are no really big climbs but it's just all up and down. I know this area, it's a hard area and the delays are a lot shorter so it's going to be just as hard as yesterday I think."

Sunderland's suffering

Scott Sunderland (Alessio-Bianchi) confirmed that he'd had a bad day, but it had been tough for everyone. "It was a tough stage, I had heavy legs," he said. "They weren't sore or stiff; it was like they had left training wheels on the bike instead of racing wheels. I think it was probably the same as everybody. But the directions were to try to get in the break if there were going to be any. That was going to be a suicide mission with the way Virenque went. That guy was on a mission."

"It was really fast," Sunderland added. "It was like the day before it was just so damn bloody fast. So then it was just look after Caucchioli because it was a pretty important day for classement riders. They didn't really put the hammer down but it looked like they were going to. Caucchioli was in a pretty good position at the steep part of the cat. 1. Then I saw that Klaus Moller was there as well I thought 'Well my job's done.' So I did the rest as easily as I could to try to save the legs for today and try to get in the breaks. I've been trying every day but one day I've bloody got to get lucky. One day I was there and it looked a good break, then I saw Mayo was there. What the bloody hell was he doing there? Otherwise we were gone that day.

"I suppose you could say the same about me doing the sprints," he joked.

McEwen's worst day

It was also a bad day for Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo). "I had my worst day yesterday," said McEwen. "It was really, really quick, it was a hard course and everybody just didn't stop. Then there was a group that wouldn't let much go. When the lead got too big Postal brought it back so that just set, for guys like me, a really uncomfortable tempo. Anyway I survived, I was only twenty-five minutes behind at the end and I let go at the very bottom of the cat. 1."

Were you surprised by Zabel getting up there at the finish?

"No, he's been up here sprinting for the win before. He came here in '99, last year he finished second in a mountain stage in the Pyrenees. He's right up there now, he's a chance to take the green jersey but we'll see what happens.

"I've just got to try to hang on and try not to get dropped. If I do I've just got to try to get to the finish and just keep going. Zabel is the only rider who hasn't missed a sprint, every other sprinter has. I'm not putting huge pressure on myself to keep the green jersey. I don't need a green jersey on to tell me that I've been the best sprinter of the first half of the Tour because I've got two stage wins to tell me that. It's not that I'm trying to degrade the green jersey or to prepare myself to lose it. It's just a fact. I was riding along yesterday and I was suffering so badly and I was thinking 'this just sucks.' Then I thought, 'Hang on, within nine days you've won two stages so you've got to be happy with it.'"

What do you think when you're suffering like that?

"Tempo, tempo, tempo. I had to come back to a group, one of my team-mates dropped back to us and brought us back to the little group at the front. The thing was that it's always the same. The first really hard day a lot of guys panic and just go. In the back we went from a group of six to a group of twenty-five then in the last 500m it came back to a group of fifty or sixty riders. So why fight it all day? Just hang together. If you're going to get dropped you might as well lose a decent amount of time and be fresher on the following day."

Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) worked hard on stage 10 to finish with the main bunch. "I dug pretty deep but I was pleased with how I felt over the big climb. I think today there'll be a break away and I just hope someone from my team can get in it."

O'Grady has his family around for inspiration. "Mum and Dad arrived today and Lesley [his sister] is here, so with Darren [his brother] already here along with Anne-Marie and Seth, it's very much a family affair."

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