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Steels almost out
Two days before the Tour, Mapei's Tom Steels had a 40 degree fever but managed to be well enough to start, and to do it in the best way ever - with consecutive wins on the two first road stages. Steels has not had the most stellar of seasons, posting just three wins this year before the Tour. He won stages in Paris-Nice, the Tour of the Mediterranean, and the Three Days of De Panne. Not good form for a pure sprinter in the number one team.
However, consecutive Tour stage wins are worth a lot and Steels will presumably get what he wants next year.
Martin Rittsel talks with Gabriella Ekström
Gabbi spoke to Memorycard's Martin Rittsel today, a rider who was instrumental in getting their team a start in the Tour, courtesy of strong rides in races such as the Four Days of Dunkirk. He faces a bigger task now, to try and gain some exposure for the team during the first, chaos filled week.
CN: What kind of responsibility do you have during the Tour?
MR: I don't really have a responsibility. We are pretty free to do what we please and get some publicity of course. The rider who could perform best on these flat stages is Hoffman, so we'll work for him if it ends with a bunch sprint. The publicity is most important, so you're likely to see us in breaks, like Blaudzun today.
CN: Which are your personal ambitions?
MR: My form isn't on top right now, so I'll wait a couple of days to see how it works out. Of course I hope that I'll win a stage, but it takes better legs to do that.
CN: On which stage are you most likely to perform, do you think?
MR: Since all the big sprinters teams go flat out in the first week, I think my chances will come in the last week, if I'm still there.
CN: This is the first time you ride in the Tour, share some of your impressions with us.
MR: It's incredible, all the people, the cars, the caravan and the press. Journalists are everywhere.
CN: Are they everywhere in a negative way?
MR: Not for me and my team, we need the publicity and we're not famous as Armstrong and Ullrich, those guys are having a tough time everywhere they go.
CN: Do you think that the Tour has been affected in a bad way by the scandals that have happened?
MR: Actually I don't think so. The race is more popular than ever, and I hope we'll come out from this in a positive way.
CN: What about he new tests which aren't used yet, but soon will be?
MR: That is very good. Our sport has been working so hard to achieve this, and I hope we get some credit for it when it finally happens. Of course it has to be fool proof before they use it, and that might be why it is not beeing used yet.
CN: Are you using any new equipment during the race?
MR: Yea, we have new bikes, everyone except for me, I have some special measurments so I have to wait for my Look a bit longer. Michael Sandstöd is riding on Matthew Gilmore's bike. It's kinda funny. Sandstöd broke his bike during the Tour of Denmark, and moved all his personal equipment to Matthew's bike. At the end of the race the mechanics moved it all back without reflecting over why it was there from the beginning, and Micke arrived to the Tour with a broken bike. Matthew's Vitus was flown in, so that is what he is riding now. Except for that we have some new wheels, and everyone has new clothes of course, I think that goes for most of the teams.
CN: What kind of CD's and books did you bring?
MR: A few magazines, and a book I picked up at the airport. It is called "The Winner" and it is written by Davide Baldacci.
CN: So who is going to be the winner of the race?
MR: I think it is Ullrich or Armstrong. It's hard to say how fast Pantani will ride in the mountains, but he still loses a great deal of time in the time trials.
Some voices from the peloton:
Tom Steels (Mapei): "Zabel seems faster than ever. He will win his stages, at least one, in this tour."
Erik Zabel (Telekom): "There is only one reason to why I'm losing: Steels is the fastest rider right now. I haven't done anything wrong in the sprints."
Frank Høj (Francaise des Jeux) in his diary at www.idol.dk: "And then there is this Millar. He really is worth that jersey. Not that I know him very well but the Britons, and all English speaking riders, have a different attitude to cycling. They are a bit half crazy all of them and that is why they go so well with us Danes."
David Millar (Cofidis) about the team time trial: "We are all good rouleurs in our team and with the yellow jersey we have one rider more than the others."
Abraham Olano (ONCE) on the same subject: "The TTT will be about five teams: Credit Agricole, Cofidis, US Postal, Telekom and ONCE. There will be no huge differences between them.
Steffen Kjaergaard (USP) at his personal site Norcykling: "I wouldn't be surprised if I am among those that are to be sacrificed among the first on the TTT. I will do the hard work early on before Lance and Co. put the speed up when I'm finished."