First Edition Cycling News, July 7, 2008
Edited by Ben Abrahams & Laura Weislo
Hushovd grabs sixth Tour stage in Brittany
By Brecht Decaluwé in Saint-Brieuc
Besides Tour de France legends Lance Armstrong and Robbie McEwen, no man has won more stages in the Tour de France since 2000 than Thor Hushovd. With his six victories the Crédit Agricole rider now equals Tom Boonen in this statistic. For some reason it does seem like the 'bear from Grimstad' receives less media attention for his achievements in the Tour de France than Belgian glamour boy 'Tommeke' Boonen. Maybe this is because the winner of the green jersey in 2005 isn't the type of rider who shows up joking all the time, nor is he someone who's always looking for extra publicity.
In that sense Hushovd is a typical Scandinavian, and in Brittany the understated Norwegian found the ideal setting for the stage victory in the bunch sprint to Saint-Brieuc. Hushovd noted the strong winds and the rain showers that tortured the peloton in the West of France, and certainly pleased the local organizers and fans when he said, "I love Brittany. It reminds me of Norway."
The sixth stage victory for Hushovd was captured after a tumultuous and fast finale. The final kilometre in Saint-Brieuc was slightly downhill, with a ultimate uphill kink starting at about 300 metres from the finish line. Despite an attack from time trialist Fabian Cancellara under the red flag of the last kilometre, Hushovd remained cool and gambled that the peloton would bring the strong Swiss back. "When Cancellara went away you know it's always dangerous. I told Renshaw not to panic. With 450 metres to go we went. It was a perfect lead-out for me," Hushovd described the last kilometre.
The late catch of the last breakaway rider, Sylvain Chavanel, which wasn't made until just before the one kilometre to go banner, and a strong wind made the run-in dangerous, and several riders crashed as a result. "It was really hard, with the wind in the finale and in the climbs, but I knew it was a sprint that suited me well," Hushovd explained about the rollercoaster-like last kilometres. "My team-mates did a good job again, and especially Mark Renshaw. He was awesome and delivered me with 200 metres to go and then it was just up to me to do a sprint. Today everything worked out 100 percent," Hushovd said.
Continue to the full feature.
Kirchen lucks out in Brittany
By Brecht Decaluwé in Saint-Brieuc
Results wise at least, the Tour de France is getting better and better for team Columbia rider Kim Kirchen. After finishing fourth in Plumelec on stage one, he now finished as runner-up in Saint-Brieuc, the same region where the Luxemburger was a runner-up four years ago on a stage to Quimper.
After being overhauled in the final metres of stage one by Alejandro Valverde, Kirchen adopted a different tactic on stage two, and just ran out of road trying to pass eventual winner Thor Hushovd. Kirchen was clearly disappointed and annoyed when he showed up at the team bus, and his mood didn't improve when he heard that he had to go back through the crowds to deliver a urine sample near to the finish line.
"There had been a crash and because of that I was coming from behind, but it's OK," he said. "The gap [on Valverde] was only one second, but there wasn't much I could do about that. Then again there was the green jersey which was within my reach, and today proved to be my lucky day for that."
Kirchen denied that the green jersey would become a serious objective for him, but as a rider who could easily grab points in the more mountainous stages, his priorities may change later in the race. "It's just great to have it and we'll see how it continues," he said.
Cunego crashes, finishes on team-mate's bike
The Lampre team's general classification hopeful Damiano Cunego had a rocky finish on stage two. The Italian tangled with Quick Step's Matteo Carrara just inside the three kilometre to go mark, which meant Cunego lost no time due to the wreck. He did, however, have to finish on the bike of his faithful team-mate Paolo Tiralongo.
"The speed was high and because of a sudden movement in the bunch I hit Carrara," Cunego explained. "Matteo has no fault. Anyway, I fell and my rear wheel got broken. Luckily the crash took place at three kilometres to go and I had no consequences. All my team-mates helped me immediately: Tiralongo gave me his bike, Ballan and the others supported me towards the finish," the Italian explained.
The quick action allowed Cunego to roll across the line in 117th place, one minute behind stage winner Thor Hushovd. Fortunately for him, the race jury neutralized the gap and awarded Cunego the same time. He now sits in 43rd place overall just seven seconds behind Alejandro Valverde.
Storm washes out Austria prologue
The prologue of the 60th Österreich-Rundfahrt (Tour of Austria) was cancelled on Sunday after a violent thunderstorm made conditions in Chiusa too dangerous for it to continue. Shortly after Tom Boonen had completed the 1.5 kilometre course, the UCI race jury decided to cancel the stage and neutralise all classifications.
On Monday, the yellow jersey will be worn by German Steffen Radochla (Elk Haus Simplon), who held the fastest time of two minutes and six seconds when the heavens opened. "Of course I was privileged to have good weather, when I started it was still good," said Radochla. "But I was leading for a long time. Nevertheless, I am pleased about my performance and will wear the yellow jersey tomorrow - that counts."
Tour director Ursula Riha explained the decision. "It was a security decision of the UCI jury," said Riha. "Of course we are not pleased with the abandonment, but there has been a storm with heavy rain and lightning." On tomorrow's first stage all riders will start with the same time. The peloton is starting at 11:50 in Chisua and will arrive in Toblach after 171 kilomtetres around 13:30.
Steegmans confirms move to Tinkoff
By Brecht Decaluwé in Auray
French sports newspaper L'Equipe revealed on Sunday that Gert Steegmans, currently riding for Quick Step at the Tour de France, has signed a two-year contract with professional continental team Tinkoff Credit Systems. Steegmans has been at Quick Step for two seasons, after moving from their Belgian rivals Lotto where he worked for Robbie McEwen in the bunch sprints.
The Russian backed team has been trying to strengthen its ranks recently, attempting to sign Filippo Pozzato and Denis Menchov. The latter recently extended his contract at Rabobank, but now team owner Oleg Tinkov has managed to pulled off his first big transfer of the year. Steegmans was clearly surprised that the news had leaked during the Tour, and took his time before stepping out of the team bus on Sunday morning.
"Well, in L'Equipe there was an article which I'd rather not have seen in the Tour," he told the assembled media. "In it was mentioned that I was probably changing teams." Asked if it were true that he would join Tinkoff, the Belgian responded: "Their official name is still unknown, but normally it will be Tinkoff. The contract is normally two years."
L'Equipe claimed that Steegmans will be earning two and half times the salary on offer from Quick Step, but the dark haired Belgian denied this. "I've already sent a message to my manager to ask him where the rest of the money is, if that story is true," Steegmans laughed. "Sadly enough it is not true."
Despite the rider's claims, however, there can be little doubt that money was the deciding factor in moving from a Belgian ProTour team to a lower level Russian professional continental outfit. "I talked with Patrick [Lefevre] before the national championships and the conclusion from that meeting was that Quick Step wasn't planning to take part [in the negotiations] at that amount," Steegmans explained. "Then we shook hands and parted as friends. We also agreed that I would perform as well as possible for the team. It wasn't a heated discussion."
Steegmans maintained that he didn't know any further details about the deal, nor about his future program. For now, Tinkoff has never ridden the Tour de France. "Not yet, but I do think they'll ride it next year," he said. "I think I'll be able to continue riding the Spring Classics and the Tour."
Asked if he would be allowed to take a rider from Quick Step along with him, Steegmans said: "I don't know, it's way too early for that."
Lefevere: Just like in football, the Russians have more money than we have
Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevre was clearly disappointed to lose one of his biggest stars in the team, next to Tom Boonen and Stijn Devolder. Nevertheless, Lefevre didn't want to blame Steegmans. "They told me his price last week. I talked with his manager [Paul De Geyter] about it and yesterday De Geyter told me that Steegmans had chosen Tinkoff. I regret his decision, but we have our budget... and clearly Tinkoff have much more money than we have," Lefevre said.
"It's just like in football: the Russians have more money than we have. We've got to live with that," the Belgian manager smiled.
"Companies who want to start a sponsorship agreement or those who are already in this business will have to live with that. It might sound pretentious, but I think that I've done a lot of miracles with my current budget," Lefevre continued. "But I can't keep going on pilgrimage to Lourdes, or use my magic stick."
Team-mate Sébastien Rosseler is a good friend of Steegmans and could possibly join him at Tinkoff. "He can go if the price is right," Lefevre said. Asked how much this price might be, Lefevre replied: "Only Rosseler and I know that. Everything's for sale in this world."
Fothen given back lost time
Holczer talks objectives and sponsor search
By Shane Stokes in Saint Brieuc
Former white jersey-wearer Markus Fothen was disappointed Saturday evening to be given a finishing time 57 seconds behind stage one winner Alejandro Valverde, after suffering a puncture inside the final three kilometres. Normally, incidents inside this mark which separate a rider from the group do not result in a loss of time, and Fothen and team manager Hans Michael Holczer set about appealing the decision today.
"I am looking for the commissaires, I couldn't find them so far but I think I will talk to them before the race," said Holczer in the village depart on Sunday morning.
"Markus punctured inside the final three kilometres, we think that he shouldn't have lost so much time. The problem is that the rules don't say what happens if the group splits again. Normally the rule says that he gets the time of the riders in the group where he was at the moment he got a flat tyre or crashed or whatever, but it broke up on the climb. I think we have to negotiate a little bit."
The appeal was indeed successful, with the race jury announcing after the stage that Fothen and Romain Feillu (Agritubel) would get a time eighteen seconds behind Valverde.
Holczer spoke to Cyclingnews about the aims of the team, saying that Fothen and Bernhard Kohl would lead the GC aspirations. "I hope that in Markus and Bernhard we have two guys who can look for the overall...not perhaps the first ten, but [to finish] in the first twenty should be possible.
"We also have Robert Förster, a strong sprinter, and Sebastian Lang is a good time trialist. I think we are pretty good for these things, and then we have Stefan Schumacher and Fabian Wegmann for the groups, or for the finishes like you saw yesterday."
The pressure is on the team, with Holczer confirming that he is still no closer to finding a replacement sponsor for next year. "We are still looking. We will use the Tour de France here as a platform, to try to attract sponsors and to tell people ‘look, this is what you can get if you come to this team.'
"We came to a point before the Tour when we said that we had to talk to everyone [the prospective backers] about how big their interest is, and we saw that there will be no contract out of this. So we are restarting now. The deadline will be the end of August."
On loan Le Lay shines on home soil
By Jean-François Quénet in Saint-Brieuc
When he passed through the village of Corlay during stage two of the Tour de France, David Le Lay managed to recognise his family along the roadside. His proud father Gilbert Le Lay was the first Breton to wear the polka dot jersey in the Tour de France back in 1978. Gilbert was so small that he was nicknamed 'la puce d'Uzel' (the lice of Uzel), after the small village in central Brittany where he was from.
"The encouragements of the people gave me wings today," Le Lay said at the finish. "I've never been cheered so much but maybe it'll be even bigger next year when the French championship will be held in Saint-Brieuc." He finished stage two in his home town and was the most popular Breton rider of the day.
"I wanted to do something in one of the Breton stages," the Agritubel rider explained. "I tried early today but it was going super fast. On the côte de Mûr-de-Bretagne, I told Christophe Moreau that we should go for the points for the polka dot jersey, he wasn't convinced it was a good idea but we went anyway and we created quite a nice gap. It's not given to anybody to just make a breakaway in a Grand Tour," added the 28 year-old.
Le Lay's case is a special one: he's on loan to Agritubel from Continental team Bretagne-Armor Lux for the last six months of the 2008 season. When he won two French cup races (Tour du Finistère and Trophée des Grimpeurs), he became the leader of the French cup and Agritubel was looking for a climber for the Tour de France. Bretagne-Armor Lux were happy to release him and he'll return to them for the 2009 season.
Bretagne-Armor Lux had hoped to become a Pro Continental team and take part in the Tour de France, a possibility that had been suggested by Christian Prudhomme for the 2008 race starting in Brittany, until both parties realised the Breton team wasn't ready yet.
Tough start to Froome's first Tour
By Jean-François Quénet in Plumelec
Chris Froome didn't have to wait long to discover just how hard the Tour de France can be. The Barloworld rider crossed the line in Plumelec, the finish of stage one, four minutes behind winner Alejandro Valverde and six places from the bottom of the results list after having a tough time in the finale.
"I didn't crash myself but I stopped and waited for [last year's king of the mountains Juan Mauricio] Soler," explained Froome. "He injured his hand again, the same as at the Giro. I hope I haven't done this work for nothing. It's never good to finish at the back of the peloton and have bad luck on the first day."
Stage one was a roller coaster for the rookie, who is the first man from Kenya to start the Tour de France. He was thrilled to see so many fans on the road side in Brittany, a region he is no stranger to after winning the Mi-Août Bretonne over here last August. Back then, Froome was still an amateur learning his trade at the UCI World Cycling Centre based in Aigle, Switzerland.
There has been some confusion in the results listings over Froome's true nationality, but the rider himself was happy to set the record straight. "I'm not the first Kenyan, I'm the first one from Kenya," he said with a very South African accent. "Riding my bike was my first way of moving around when I was a kid in Kenya, but I really discovered cycling as a sport when I moved to South Africa as a teenager. In South Africa, people think I'm a South African."
In fact, he recently took the nationality of his ancestors from Great Britain, so Froome is not that exotic at the Tour de France. "I'm not known in Kenya and I don't think anybody there will really hear about me riding the Tour, except from my brother who has returned living in Nairobi, where I rode my first race. There aren't more than three or four races a year in Kenya. Bicycles are too expensive for the people. That's why they run, and they run so well."
Even more Tour: Video highlights and podcasts
Just can't get enough of the Tour? Well fear not because Cyclingnews has expanded its coverage once again this year to bring you video highlights of every stage plus daily podcasts courtesy of Bikeradar.com and Procycling magazine. Our video comes directly from Tour de France owners Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), and will be online shortly after the finish of each stage. We've also got highlights from classic Tours of the past so click here to see the full archive.
Check out the podcasts page in our Tour de France section for a full round-up of news and views from the Tour. In Sunday's podcast, Procycling's Ellis Bacon and Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins discuss the latest bikes on display this year, providing a glimpse of what's to come in our tech section in the coming days.
(All rights reserved/Copyright Future Publishing Limited 2008)