September 28 - October 7, 2001
Paris-Corrèze - 1st Edition
Last year, former double Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon had cleverly noticed that there was a hole in the French racing calendar in the lead up to the World Championships. In Belgium there is Franco-Belge (4 days). In Italy you have got the Giro di Luca (4 days); and of course you have the last week of the Vuelta in Spain. A small 3-day stage rage would be perfect to fill up the void in France.
Fignon had two goals organizing Paris-Corrèze:
1. To give the national team selectors a good look at the in-form
2. To give these riders a better build-up to Paris-Bourges, Paris-Tours and of course the World's
Paris-Corrèze took off very well. It was outstandingly organized, a nice parcours with long but not exaggerated stages. This race has got a lot of potential, no doubt.
Stage 1 - September 28: Saint-Maurice to Ormes, 187 km
In general, in short stage races, the first stage is ridden very nervously and normally sees the GC already being shaped; with little change to it in the following days. This doesn't affect the racing, as it stays very much closed, with time bonuses only awarded on the finish line. Stage one was all flat as we headed towards Ormes, just near Orleans. The deciding point of the day would be the wind.
The peloton cruised out of Paris and for the next 50 km everything was cool, relaxed. At 69 km we encountered the only hill climb (500 metres at 6%) of the day. Once we finished that sprint, we came out into the open fields. Ag2R were there all at once to profit from that and they succeeded. In the space of one km they used the cross winds to the max; the peloton was strung out into a single line and everyone who wasn't at the front, with the first 20-30 riders, was grovelling and fighting in the gutter.
Kim Andersen said over the radio that we would be heading in the same direction for some 25 km. We were in a group of about 50 riders as we came into the feeding zone at km 102. It eased slightly but having previous experiences like this, I moved up to the left and didn't bother about getting a bag. Unfortunately, my two teammates did take one. I didn't see them again after that point. While they were trying to put the food in their pockets, the hammer went down again and a group of 26 formed in front. I knew it was going to stay like this to the finish as we were doing 55 to 60 km/h; there was no way the chasers could go any faster than we were doing.
In the last 10 km, the attacking started but no one was able to get away very far. All of a sudden, with 2 km to go, Ag2r 's Lauri Aus took off, like he had a rocket up his jumper. Gerolsteiner and Credit Agricole gave chase and CA's Thor Hushovd started the sprint. I jumped onto his wheel. We caught Lauri Aus three metres before the finish.
Ruskys won, Hushovd came in second and I finished third; a photo finish for 2nd, 3rd and 4th. I was happy with the day, although I knew I just missed those extra seconds and 2nd place by an inch.
Stage 2 - September 29: Blois to StArmand Montrond, 189.2 km
As Gerolsteiner had the Yellow Jersey, they controlled the day. Two riders went off the front. My teammate Kurt Arvesen was one of them; he was at 30 min in the classement. But the other guy was only at 2'30 on GC, so Gerolsteiner couldn't allow him to get away too far.
The peloton rounded them up with 15 km to go and it came down to a bunch sprint finish with neo-pro Wesley Van Speybroeck (Lotto) taking the win before Hushovd who put on the leader's jersey. He had a one second lead on Ruskys. My name was still third on the list, at 5 seconds.
Stage 3 - September 30: Evaux les Bains to Tulle, 186.4 km
That day, it was up to Crédit Agricole to take the race in hand. They had to work from the moment the flag dropped; we averaged 45 km/h for the first two hours over a very hilly parcours near Limoges. A few small breaks went up the road but none of them lasted long. Finally 6 riders got enough time to make their escape work; there was no rider in there who was a threat to the GC. They took five minutes quite quickly.
Team fakta had Jorgen Bo Petersen there, as had been the plan. He was feeling good before the stage started and he thought of a big hit out and to go for the stage win. It went his way. He attacked with 3 km to go and kept a 10 second lead to the finish. Jorgen Bo also won the Mountains Jersey. It was a great day for him and the team.
In the meantime, in the peloton, Crédit Agricole was still trying to keep things together for Thor Hushovd. Jens Voigt worked his proverbial butt off, doing big turns on the front as usual. The last 1.5 km went uphill; 5%. I gave it full gas for the last km; to try and pick up the 6 seconds bonification I needed to win overall.
A few gaps appeared but it was not enough to make a difference. I got 6th in the stage and stayed at 3rd position in the final GC. That wasn't too bad either - the main thing was that the team had a great three days of racing!
Paris Correze Results
51st Paris-Bourges - October 4, 207 km, Last of the French Cup races
This race was fast and nervous; with constant attacks, all to no avail. The French riders go crazy in these races that count for the French cup. It's a matter of prestige of winning this cup overall and every race is ridden as if it were a bloody Classic; The whole day was go, go, go.
One break went up the road and Mapei worked on the front to bring them back. After 15 km of chasing the group was caught. The peloton managed to keep things together until the feed. At that moment Florent Brard decided to attack. He went with a Française des Jeux rider.
At the 130 km mark, a steep climb, and a group of 6 riders was formed in the front. We made a gap of 10-15 sec and worked hard for 10 km to make the break work. Crédit Agricole were working like madmen to take us back but we went out to 1 minute. At that stage, CA tempered the chase; Big Mat, Ag2r, Oktos and CSC took over. We caught Brard and his companion 60 km before the finish.
Our lead went out to 1'30 with 50 km to go. In the local lap, with 4 km to go Tessier (Cofidis) attacked. Nicolas Vogondy (FdJ) reacted immediately and Mattan jumped on his wheel. I then jumped too. Brard followed me. I closed the gap to the three riders and at that moment Mattan attacked again. I didn't give him any room to move, with only 2 km to go.
As we went under the red flag, Brard came from behind going full gas. Everybody reacted too late and Brard quickly took 50 metres on us. He took the win, Mattan won the sprint for second; I finished 3rd before Laurent Brochard who won the French Cup. Our own Michael Skelde was second in the bunch sprint and took the last of the UCI points for 10th place.
Kim Andersen, our team director is happy with the season; which is now slowly coming to an end. Team fakta has done well, all of us really and the team has bonded in a special way. Kim and Peter are looking at adding some more riders to the team and one of the most important assets they look at, next to some UCI points of course, is a good mentality, they have to be team players, like the rest of us.
The team performed well in France in these last races and we have put some more points into our joint Team fakta UCI account. Things look good, and with 5 of us competing in the Worlds (3 Danish, One Swedish and One Australian), we know we have had a good season this year.
Immediately after the World's, another five of us will fly out to Australia to ride the Sun Tour. Next to trying to pick up some nice prize money, we also look forward to closing of this season with some sun and a few good nights out on the town!
I came home from France, feeling a bit under the weather. The next day I woke up with a sore throat and feeling fluey. Although my preparation for the World's was set, I am forced to completely change the program leading up to it. I'm not panicking yet, although I haven't been on the bike for 3 days now; feeling too weak to do anything and coughing my heart up during the night; hence the dryness of the update! All I can do is rest.
I haven't got a clue how the rest of this week will go; but I'll keep you informed, keep your fingers crossed!