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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Dauphiné Libéré Cycling News Special for June 13, 2005

Edited by Jeff Jones, reporting by Anthony Tan in Sallanches

Hincapie top of the class

George Hincapie
Photo ©: AFP
Click for larger image

While Lance Armstrong rated his performance as a B-plus at best, his team-mate George Hincapie's performance over the past week of the Dauphiné Libéré was an A++.

The 31 year-old from South Carolina won the opening prologue two Sundays ago, earning the right to wear the first maillot jaune of the tour. Although his spell in yellow lasted only two days, Hincapie showed his form was no fluke after finishing seventh at the time trial in Roanne. And last Saturday, on the most difficult day of the race from Albertville to Morzine, he was one of the last riders to stay with Armstrong.

Just before the penultimate climb of the Côte de Châtillon, the prelude to the much-feared Col de Joux-Plane, Hincapie spurred an attack that split the already thinned peloton, which saw the likes of Vinokourov, Klöden and Landaluze in trouble. It came back together, but it was a perfect, and for their rivals, ominous, pre-Tour de France drill for Discovery Channel.

"Yeah, I would say I'm right on track," said Hincapie to Cyclingnews. "I haven't raced for six weeks before this, so it's good to come here and ride hard, and try and get some good race fitness. No matter how hard you train, you can't train as hard as you race, so it's good to do this hard race. The course is super-hard here - maybe too hard! (laughs) - it's probably harder than some of the Tour stages, so it's good training."

Asked about his last comment on the difficulty of this year's Dauphiné, would he rate it as a little harder than previous years, or much harder? "Definitely, definitely [much harder]," he said without hesitation. "ProTour race now, 160 guys as opposed to around 100 last year, all the best teams are here, very aggressive, attacks at the start every day - so for sure, it's been a lot harder than it has been in the past."

Yaroslav Popovych and George Hincapie
Photo ©: AFP
Click for larger image

On Sunday, Hincapie made it even harder on himself. When the breakaway he was in looked like coming back, he and teammate Yaroslav Popovych simply rode away from a rampaging field, incredibly keeping the field at bay for almost 100 kilometres, before taking his second stage win at the Dauphiné.

"I would never have dreamed of winning two stages," he said. "I trained very hard for this race, so to win the prologue was a really big deal for me. And today's stage, it was a really hard day, just brutal. So I'm really happy."

Asked if he's found his form in the big mountains a little surprising, given his pedigree as a man for the Spring Classics, Hincapie replied: "Nah...I've been feeling good, I've been doing a lot of work in the hills. I just did lots of mountain climbing intervals back home in South Carolina, trying to get as light as possible for the Tour. The form is good; I'm trying to get ready for the Tour, so I'm just happy with the way things are going."

Carlos Sastre: A race against time

"For me, it's been a really hard race; every day, it's been full gas. Sometimes, it's been a race without control - nobody wants to control the race, because many riders are racing the Tour de France, and these riders are racing with the Tour [in mind]. And when you're not in the best condition, it's really difficult just to follow the group, y'know."

It's been a difficult year for CSC's Carlos Sastre. Not only was the Dauphiné Libéré a race without control for him, so too were the events that took place prior to that, which saw the 30 year-old break his elbow on the first stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco back in April, leaving him unable to ride at all for three weeks.

"It was 15, 18 kilometres from the finish line in the first stage," he begins to recall. "Ivan [Basso] also crashed at that moment, but nothing happened to him. I don't exactly what happened, but I saw some riders crash and lying on the road, and I thought I passed the crashed riders, but I came down. I don't know if someone hit me from behind, or maybe my bike got stuck with someone [lying] on the road; I don't know exactly, but it happened."

Importantly, the Tour of the Basque Country was the first race Sastre wanted to do well at. It was part of a gradual build-up to what will hopefully still be a successful Tour de France for him and his team. But ever since he found he way back on the bike in May, the Spaniard has found himself in a race against time, cramming in as many training and race miles as he can.

"[After the crash], I had to start again from zero. Now, I need to train more to get the best preparation in order for me to reach a high level at the Tour de France," he said to Cyclingnews, and there's more than a degree of urgency in his voice.

Asked how far off he is from his best form, Sastre isn't quite sure. "Ah, I don't know... it's difficult, because you never know [the fitness] the other riders," he said. "Many guys are at the top now in their best condition; other guys are not super but OK - but until the Tour de France, you never know. Until you are there, but never know exactly."

Come July, Team CSC has stated their goal is to challenge Armstrong, Ullrich et al. for the overall title with their rider Ivan Basso. However, with Basso faltering through ill health midway through the Giro d'Italia, and Sastre's proven performance at the Tour, where he was a mountain stage winner in 2003, the quietly spoken individual is hoping both form and opportunity will soon come his way.

"With Ivan we have a good chance; if he is the best guy for the team, I'll help him as much as I can. But normally in the Tour de France, I have a lot of freedom, but we work as a team; the most important thing is the team.

"For me, the most important thing is to reach a high level in the Tour de France, and afterwards, always follow my feelings. I would like to get the same results as I had last year," he said.

In between now and the Tour, Sastre's immediate concerns are the ProTour team time trial in Eindhoven this coming Sunday, and the Spanish championships the following week, where he only intends to ride the individual time trial. So, with time trials and making up for lost time encompassing his mind, how does Carlos feel about the lack of TT kilometres in the Tour compared to previous years?

"I don't know, but what I do know is that with or without time trials, the Tour de France is always hard!" he said with a chuckle.

Alby 'pretty sure' about Le Tour #2

Having just completed one of the most difficult editions of the Dauphiné Libéré in a long time, young Australian Classics and sprint star Allan Davis is quietly preparing his body and mind for his second Tour de France participation, having made his debut in 2004.

Along with 53 other riders, Davis abandoned the final stage of the French stage race from Morzine to Sallanches yesterday, won by Discovery Channel's George Hincapie, and admitted he's found the going a little tougher than expected.

"Yeah, the legs were a bit sore, mate, to tell you the truth; I felt like I'd just been run over by a truck!" he laughed to Cyclingnews at the Sunday afternoon start in Morzine. "But I've been recovering well during the night, so I'm happy - one day at a time. I'll get through this race in pretty good nick [condition], and that's what I was hoping to do."

On his thoughts as to whether the race has provided a solid indication of what to expect in less than a month's time, and for three weeks straight, Davis replied: "Yeah, it's been a pretty good race for that; the mountain stages... actually, the whole week's been quite hard, simulated Tour stages really!"

As to how the rest of the riders on his team have fared over the course of the week, with team leader Roberto Heras expected to go better but didn't, and not one Liberty Seguros rider finishing the race, Davis provided a diplomatic answer: "It's been a good learning curve to see where people are at, and how everyone's climbing.

"Most of the guys are keeping the Tour de France in mind, so we're happy with the way things are going. I've come here with a lot of training under my belt, and came here to get some good race form. Yeah, I'm pretty happy with the way the week's gone," he said.

Having based himself and his family in Spain since joining Manolo Saiz's team in 2003 and riding loads of Spanish races with riders from the area, was he surprised with Iñigo Landaluze's performance over the last few days of the Dauphiné, which saw the Euskaltel rider claim the biggest win of his career?

"No, not really surprised. Last year, he nearly won a stage of the Tour, but just got caught at the line. But he's rode well and smart, so good on him. It'll be hard for someone to knock him off; yeah, I think he's in with a good chance," said Davis, his prediction turning out to be spot-on.

As for his Tour participation, like most teams, Liberty will announce its final nine at the eleventh hour, but Alby feels that with three stage wins (two at the Vuelta a Murcia, one at the Vuelta a Aragon) and five second places so far this year, he's in with a good shot.

"It hasn't been confirmed as yet, but I'm pretty sure of a spot. I'll probably find out a week before I go!" he chuckled nervously. "But at the moment, I've been doing what I can and training as if I am going [to the Tour de France]."

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