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Tour de France News for July 7, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones

McGee happy to keep yellow

McGee and Millar
Photo: © AFP
Click for larger image

Race leader Bradley McGee was involved in yesterday's finish pileup, and was pushed across the line by a teammate, sporting a cut on his left elbow. The FDJeux.com rider explained "I was dodging right and dodging left and I thought I'd got through but then someone hit me from behind and that was it."

But McGee shrugged off his injuries, which was comparatively minor. "If nothing's broken or dislocated then you're okay. I landed mostly on my head and my 'old man' (father John) will tell you that's the hardest part," he joked.

McGee was happy with the way the stage panned out yesterday, with Christophe Mengin in the breakaway taking the mountains jersey. "The best thing was for us to send someone down the road and neutralise the rest of the sprints," said McGee. "But I showed I have some sprinting legs at the moment because I managed the second place and the bonus on the early sprint."

Sprinters quiet and loud

It is often said that it's in a sprinter's nature to have a big mouth and be very aggressive in his comments, it sort of comes with the territory, with the adrenaline pumping through the veins. But there's always exceptions to the rule, and Eric Zabel proved once again he can compete closely with the usually very modest Petacchi when it comes to expressing sentiments after the race.

Petacchi said after his first ever Tour stage victory that "I am very happy to win today, but that's what I get paid for. I came here to win a stage, sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. After the Giro, I didn't ride one race and I sort of lost the rhythm a bit. Especially in the slight uphill sections I felt today that my form isn't the same as that of the Giro. I knew though that I had to confirm the good things I did in Italy and I succeeded in doing so. It's a real pity that the crash happened though. My teammate Loda went down too. Crashes are my biggest fear in this Tour."

Erik Zabel (3rd yesterday) was quoted in the Belgian VUM papers as saying, "Petacchi is the sprinter." Zabel punctured with twelve kilometres to go but he refused to use that as an excuse. "I was waited on by four of my team mates and I got back to the peloton quite quickly. I didn't lose that much power doing so. Petacchi didn't win six stages in the Giro just like that, he is just the faster man. He's the best sprinter in the world at the moment. Ah, there's more opportunities coming!"

Robbie McEwen (2nd yesterday) was not so calm. "Robert Hunter made me crazy," he told the VUM papers. "Because of that I lost Petacchi's wheel to Erik Zabel and I had to ride in the wind too long. It was a mistake that I paid cash for."

Even the Green Jersey, which was a few sizes too big for the small sprinter, didn't lessen his disappointment. "Obviously they don't know my size anymore. I don't rate this green jersey as that important at this point in the race. It's a consolation prize. In agreement with Marc Sergeant I went in the first sprint to warm up. It was the perfect finish for me today. I had a perfect lead out by Van Bon on top of that. But I'm not panicking at all. I beat Petacchi twice in the Giro."

Theo de Rooij in favour of 3 km rule

Marc Lotz
Photo: © AFP
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The crash in Meaux with 500m to go yesterday brought back memories of Wilfried Nelissen and Jaja's crash when they went down in '94 in Armetières. The images were sobering, with riders flying everywhere, Jimmy Casper immobilised on the asphalt and Mark Lotz's face seriously injured.

At the finish, the team directors were anxiously counting their riders. The Rabobank team bus was turned into a field hospital in minutes: Leipheimer, Lotz, Niermann and De Groot all came down.

Team director Theo de Rooij was very nervous and upset: "Things have gone wrong already and we have only just started the Tour," he told Het Nieuwsblad. "For years I have been asking to register the times at three kilometres before the finish. That way you would avoid this kind of carnage! But the UCI is afraid that the riders would be taking it easy into the last kilometres, freewheeling or something, hands on top of the handlebars! On top of that you couldn't keep count of the traffic islands today!"

Also Michael Boogerd was shaken: "You see your teammate (Marc Lotz) standing there, blood gushing out of him!"

Lotto-Domo was very lucky, only Nick Gates came off but fortunately he didn't get hurt. "If it continues to be like this," commented Serge Baguet. "Every stage of the tour will have to finish on a stretch of highway. It was more dangerous and nervous than last year."

"There are a lot of riders sprinting who shouldn't be there," remarked Hans De Clercq, McEwen's right hand man in preparing the sprint. "The first few days everybody thinks they can gain from that."

New director at Cofidis

After a disastrous start for the team in the prologue, Alain Bondue has been demoted as the Cofidis team manager, according to a report in the Guardian. Bondue was blamed by David Millar for choosing the equipment that led to Millar's (and several other team members) chain jumping off the big chainring, which likely cost him more than the 0.08 seconds than he lost the prologue by.

After Millar and Cofidis sponsor François Migraine complained, Bondue will no longer take any part in the team management, especially when it comes to equipment. He has been replaced as directeur sportif by trainer Francis Van Londersele. Bernard Quilfen and Alain Deloeil remain as directeurs sportif.

Bondue defended himself by saying "I told David not to start with only one chainring in the front but he did it anyway. He wanted to do the same in 2000 when he won in Futuroscope, but I convinced him then not to do it. On these Parisian cobbles, he was just asking for trouble riding with only one."

Millar told the French TV program Véloclub after stage 1: "Today, not yesterday, was the most painful day in my career. It really hurt not to ride in yellow today. It will take me a few more days to get over this. Yesterday, I went into hiding in my room. I didn't watch the replays, didn't watch anything. But today I was confronted with it big time."

Also see: Millar's mechanical: For want of a front derailleur...

Wauters in form

Marc Wauters, (Rabobank) finished 24th in the prologue time trial, and was the best Belgian rider in the stage on Saturday. "This is the proof that I'm in form," he told the VUM papers. "6.5km is not the ideal distance for me. Against the real specialists I come up a bit short. But I did show myself a bit as the national time trial champion. In the first week I'll work very hard for Freire and after that I can go my own way. I dream of a Tour stage win."

On the other hand, Rik Verbrugghe (Lotto-Domo), didn't do as well in the TT as was expected. The winner of the fastest ever prologue (Giro 2001) only managed 37th spot in the Tour prologue. "I couldn't kick it into turbo," he said. "I knew I was coming short. I did enjoy the Parisian inner city though. This prologue will remain a good memory. I'll try to go into a good break in the coming week. I don't have to worry about McEwen's sprints. I've got Carte Blanche."

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