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90th Tour de France - July 5-27, 2003
A Colombian in yellow
Victor Hugo Peña realises a dream
By Gabriella Ekström in Saint Dizier
US Postal's amazing ride in the team time trial between Joinville and Saint Dizier gave Colombian rider Victor Hugo Peña a special present for his 29th birthday tomorrow. More valuable than gifts is the honour to ride over the start line in Troyers tomorrow as the first ever Colombian rider in the yellow jersey. Victor Hugo, named after his father Hugo and the more famous French author, knew the possibility to seize the jersey existed before the stage. USPS sport director Johan Bruyneel told the press after the stage that Peña had made an effort to do a good prologue in Paris, so that the yellow jersey should still be within reach, should he get the opportunity.
One single second now separates Victor Hugo from Lance Armstrong in the general classification, and with Posties in the first eight places on G.C., the jersey is secure for the time being. Was it then a tactical move to put Peña in the jersey, rather than the obvious team leader Armstrong?
"Not really," says Bruyneel. "Right now it means that Lance won't have to get onto the podium that much, and will be relieved of some stress, but the team will still feel the weight of having the jersey. It matters little if it sits on the back of Lance or Victor Hugo."
Peña himself was ecstatic on the podium, fully aware of the historical bookmark he was responsible for. "Today I have made a dream of mine come true, but it could not have happened if I had not been a part of the greatest team in the world. This is a historic moment that puts Colombia in the cycling records for ever. After the Colombians started their attempt to conquest the European cycling scene with riders like Herrera and Parra, the interest for cycling in my country has increased tremendously. When a cyclist in Colombia wins something overseas, everyone will know about it. When I was a kid, I used to sit in front of the radio for hours and listen to the reports from Tour de France."
Coming from a cycling family, Victor Hugo always knew what his destiny had in mind for him. "My father was a track pursuit rider and because of that I wanted to become a cyclist too. I started as a swimmer and was selected for the Colombian national team, but I would tell my father over and over again that I'd like to be a cyclist most of all. At first he would tell me no, because it was such a hard sport, but eventually he gave into my wish. I started out on the track just as he did, and after I became the national champion in '96, I switched to the road."
When the teams with the real strong men of the race reached the first time check of the day, it became obvious that J-P Nazon's minutes of fame in the jersey were numbered. US Postal ended up beating ONCE-Eroski by 30 seconds, and Team Bianchi by 43 seconds, and no chances were taken by the team that is chasing its fifth consecutive Tour de France victory.
"We came here to Joinville to ride over the parcours for the first time in May," Johan Bruyneel explained. "Then we went back without the riders after the stage last night and really checked out every little corner and climb, and then we all got together at a meeting and set the plan for how the stage should be approached, before going back with the riders this morning for a final check. Our plan was to put all our cards on the final twenty kilometres. At that point we really started to take advantage of our five strongest riders, Armstrong, Hincapie, Ekimov, Landis and Peña. At the first time check we had a twenty second delay, and at the second check point we were only six seconds late, and after that point we really started to ride hard."