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98th Paris-Tours - CDM
France, October 10, 2004
Dare to be Erik: Defiant Dekker proves "nothing is impossible"
Bettini takes back World Cup jersey
By Chris Henry in Tours
Recent years have shown that despite its stature as a flat, sprinter's race, Paris-Tours is often won in a breakaway. Whether solo or in a small group, winners such as Jacky Durand, Andrea Tafi, Marc Wauters and Richard Virenque have all shown that the peloton can be beaten at its own game. Erik Zabel returned the sprinters to the fore in 2003, but just one year on, Erik Dekker (Rabobank) did the ride of his life to keep the bunch at bay and claim his third World Cup victory on the Avenue de Grammont in Tours. Germany's Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) was the best of the rest, while Dekker's teammate, favoured sprinter and recently crowned World Champion Oscar Freire, completed the podium.
Dekker's win was one of sheer determination. Part of a five (then four) man breakaway for most of the race, he refused to waver even as the peloton closed within a minute (and indeed within sight) in the hectic finale. The Dutch national champion showed himself to be the strongest in every group as he fought his way to Tours, whittling the break down in size as the peloton drew ever nearer. A crash in the main field in the closing kilometres set in motion a new potential for victory as Dekker latched onto a new group of four emerging from the head of the peloton. In the end, despite his day-long effort, Dekker was the fastest and the most determined to hold off the charging field. Down the seemingly interminable Avenue de Grammont, a final do or die sprint to win by several lengths capped a career-defining display of physical and tactical brilliance.
"I thought for a long time about what Richard Virenque did [in 2001], which was unbelievable," Dekker explained, referring to Virenque's own solo adventure to foil the sprinters. "Nothing is impossible. It's such a hard race, it's October, and you never know how fast the peloton can go. Normally in a race like this the final kilometres would be close to 70 km/h, but never in Tours.
"You don't win that many World Cups in your life," Dekker added, asked about the significance of this success. "My dream, after two years of injury, was to come back and win a big race. I achieved that today. To be Dutch champion is nice, to win the Tour of Holland is nice, but this is extraordinary."
Dekker's third World Cup success comes after his year 2000 win in San Sebastian and a popular home victory at the 2001 Amstel Gold Race.
Despite a crash with 115 km to go, Dekker's teammate Oscar Freire took third on the day. "All of the team raced well. Dekker was the strongest; he showed it in the end. It's normal that he wins," commented the World Champ.
A disappointed Stuart O'Grady was unable to repeat his third place of last year, finishing fifth in Tours. "I was down in the crash with Paolini on the hill before last. I had to sprint to get back to the bunch. That was where I left my strength, even if I did finish fifth. It's a shame because the team made a big effort to chase down the breakaway."
Victory also eluded Olympic road race champion Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step-Davitamon), but the Italian did inch closer to his third World Cup series after moving ahead of Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) in the standings. Bettini finished sixth in the sprint, just a week after a knee injury forced him out of the World Championships in Verona, but Rebellin could muster only 13th. While today was an objective for Bettini, he knows the final round of the World Cup in Lombardia will be no easy task.
"I finished sixth, that's OK," said the Italian. "In the sprint, I was a little squeezed in when I tried to take Freire's wheel. I couldn't drive the sprint like I wanted to. I get the World Cup jersey again, but things will be decided at the Giro di Lombardia. The points difference is not big, but Rebellin will have to attack if he wants to win the World Cup. I will follow him."
How it unfolded
Sunday dawned as most Paris-Tours mornings do, chilly, grey...hardly inviting for a late-season race of such importance. The sleepy town of Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines hosted the race once again, the start of a 252 kilometre march southwest to Tours in the heart of France's Loire Valley. 25 teams and 188 riders took the start as all eyes were on the few sprinters in the race, notably World Champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Australia's Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis). Out due to injury or illness were defending champion Erik Zabel, Alessandro Petacchi, and Tom Boonen, prompting many to believe in an eventual breakaway's chances.
Feeling more energetic than most, Dekker was one of these men and he began his adventure began early, breaking clear and luring away three riders after just 25km of racing. With a modest tailwind to spur the group on, Bram Tankink (Quick.Step-Davitamon), Vladimir Gussev (Team CSC), and Manuel Quinziato (Lampre) joined the flying Dutchman on the road south. Frenchman Eric Berthou (RAGT Semences-MG Rover) steadily bridged the gap to the quartet and the day's break was officially set after 50km.
"I felt so strong I thought maybe I should just sit in the pack and wait," Dekker confessed. His move was clearly one of team tactics, as race favourite and teammate Oscar Freire had the luxury of keeping his team fresh while others- notably Cofidis and FDJeux.com, did the work in chasing. The breakaway built a maximum advantage of eight minutes, which under more predictable circumstances would hardly seem sufficient to fend off the field.
Cofidis took the most responsibility for keeping this advantage in check, reducing the gap to five, then four minutes through the middle section of the race. Knowing the in-form O'Grady was its best bet in a bunch sprint, the French team set to work its faithful domestiques including Matt White, Frédéric Bessy, and Jimmy Engoulvent. When sprinter Jimmy Casper went to work in the closing kilometres, it became clear that it was all for O'Grady in Tours.
Former French national champion Nicolas Vogondy joined in the fray for FDJeux.com, as the team also found itself in the unenviable position of having nobody in the break and a sprinter to work for in the pack. Vogondy did the work of many men (and several teams) in chipping away at the break's advantage while World Cup contenders Bettini and Rebellin marked each other in the peloton.
While Paris-Tours is essentially a flat race, a series of small hills throughout the day, and particularly in the final 40 kilometres, test the legs of the leaders. It was here that the break began to lose its collective force. First Berthou punctured, never to rejoin. Next it was Tankink and Quinziato who began to suffer as Dekker forced the pace on a short rise. With only Gussev for company, Dekker was no doubt committed to tempting fate. He had come too far to let the peloton, now within barely a minute with 30km to race, reel him in like any ordinary escapee.
The field too began to fragment as riders strained to keep pace with the FDJeux/Cofidis riders leading the chase. As the 20km to go banner came into view, with Dekker and Gussev still away, more teams began to feel the urgency. With Tankink out of the break, Quick.Step was free - and indeed obligated - to send its men to the front. Kevin Hulsmans, Wilfried Cretskens and Michael Rogers added horsepower to the chase, thinking only of their man Bettini. Alessio and Chocolade Jacques put in token efforts at the front, but without the well-oiled machines of Fassa Bortolo and T-Mobile working for the likes of Petacchi and Zabel, the chase was appearing less certain.
The calculations began in earnest with 10 kilometres to race as Dekker and Gussev held barely half a minute. With 8km to go, Dekker decided to dump his last companion and go for broke on his own.
"With 15km to go we crossed a bridge and could actually see the peloton," Dekker recalled, "They were so close! I decided to drop Gussev and show everybody that I had good legs..."
As the field began to stretch out its arms to pull Dekker back, a crash disrupted the chase just as the day-long break looked to be over. Indeed Dekker was caught, but by just four men who lept from the front of the field as riders went down in a slick right-hand corner. This was no opportunist move, rather a select group of race contenders including Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Igor Astarloa (Lampre), Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile), and sprinter Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros).
Against all odds, Dekker latched onto the tail end of the train and dug deep to keep himself in contention as the race wound through the narrow, undulating roads of suburban Tours. At this point, Dekker needed only to follow the wheels while the others tried to put distance between themselves and the regrouping peloton. The new group of five lacked the strength and cohesiveness required to reach the finish in one piece, and slowly but surely Dekker emerged once more as the strongest man in the move.
Up the Côte du Pont Volant with 4km to go, Dekker was hanging on as Flecha drove the break. The tables turned quickly, however, as the leaders looked at each other - and the field not far behind - after the final climb of the Côte du Petit Pas d'Ane. This was the moment Dekker wanted, and he attacked the leaders. Only Kessler could join him as Flecha, Davis and Astarloa fell several seconds back, joined by chasers Eddy Mazzoleni (Saeco) and Cristian Moreni (Alessio-Bianchi).
Into the final kilometres, and the dead-straight Avenue de Grammont, Dekker and Kessler held a nail-biting five seconds over the chasers, who were swept up by the thundering field. Kessler took a final pull under the red kite of the final kilometre, before Dekker resumed his place up front. This was the time that mattered, and Dekker completed what he himself called an impossible ride, winning Paris-Tours by mere metres ahead of the bunch.
"The level I had in 2000, and particularly 2001...It's dangerous to think you can ever get that back," Dekker commented, once more alluding to his struggles with injury in the past two seasons. "I had that feeling in some races - I was at that level in the Tour of Holland - but then I crashed and that set me back.
"Today," he smiled, "I was back to that level."
Images by Chris Henry/Cyclingnews.com
Images by Fotoreporter Sirotti
Images by AFP Photo
Images by Daniel Schamps
Images by Régis Garnier/www.velofotopro.fr.st
1 Erik Dekker (Ned) Rabobank 5.33.03 (45.49 km/h) 2 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Gerolsteiner 3 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 4 Allan Davis (Aus) Liberty Seguros 5 Stuart O'grady (Aus) Cofidis Credit Par Telephone 6 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Davitamon 7 Matthias Kessler (Ger) T-Mobile Team 8 Uros Murn (Slo) Phonak Hearing Systems 9 Jaan Kirsipuu (Est) Ag2R Prevoyance 10 Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) Saeco 11 Stefan Van Dijk (Ned) Lotto-Domo 12 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Fdjeux.Com 13 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 14 Alexandre Usov (Blr) Phonak Hearing Systems 15 Cristian Moreni (Ita) Alessio-Bianchi 16 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Lotto-Domo 17 Eric Baumann (Ger) T-Mobile Team 18 Anthony Geslin (Fra) Brioches La Boulangere 19 Inaki Isasi (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 20 Pablo Lastras (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto 21 Mirko Celestino (Ita) Saeco 22 Guido Trenti (USA) Fassa Bortolo 23 Andrej Hauptman (Slo) Lampre 24 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Lotto-Domo 25 Karsten Kroon (Ned) Rabobank 26 Andy De Smet (Bel) Mrbookmaker.Com-Palmans 27 Florent Brard (Fra) Chocolade Jacques Wincor 28 Gerrit Glomser (Aut) Saeco 29 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 30 Stijn Devolder (Bel) US Postal-Berry Floor 31 Christophe Brandt (Bel) Lotto-Domo 32 Paolo Bossoni (Ita) Lampre 33 Gregory Rast (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems 34 Zbigniew Piatek (Pol) Chocolade Jacques Wincor 35 Ruslan Ivanov (Mda) Alessio-Bianchi 36 Steven De Jongh (Ned) Rabobank 37 Roberto Petito (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 38 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 39 Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Brioches La Boulangere 40 Mathew Hayman (Aus) Rabobank 41 Frédéric Gabriel (Fra) Mrbookmaker.Com-Palmans 42 Rolf Aldag (Ger) T-Mobile Team 43 Benoit Joachim (Lux) US Postal-Berry Floor 44 Franck Renier (Fra) Brioches La Boulangere 45 Marcus Zberg (Swi) Gerolsteiner 46 Marc Wauters (Bel) Rabobank 47 Frédéric Guesdon (Fra) Fdjeux.Com 48 Cédric Vasseur (Fra) Cofidis Credit Par Telephone 49 Andreas Klier (Ger) T-Mobile Team 50 Christopher Horner (USA) Saunier Duval-Prodir 51 Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz) Cofidis Credit Par Telephone 52 Fabio Sacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 53 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) US Postal-Berry Floor 54 Patxi Xabie Vila Errandonea (Spa) Lampre 55 Daniele Nardello (Ita) T-Mobile Team 56 Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Liberty Seguros 57 Marco Velo (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 58 Robert Förster (Ger) Gerolsteiner 0.11 59 Michael Albasini (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems 0.20 60 Marco Serpellini (Ita) Gerolsteiner 0.28 61 Andrea Tafi (Ita) Alessio-Bianchi 0.30 62 Gianluca Bortolami (Ita) Lampre 63 Wilfried Cretskens (Bel) Quick Step-Davitamon 64 Lars Michaelsen (Den) Team CSC 65 Christophe Rinero (Fra) R.A.G.T. Semences-Mg Rover 66 Gorik Gardeyn (Bel) Lotto-Domo 67 Renaud Dion (Fra) R.A.G.T. Semences-Mg Rover 68 Sergio Marinangeli (Ita) Domina Vacanze 69 Alberto Ongarato (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 70 Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 71 Tristan Hoffman (Ned) Team CSC 72 Igor Astarloa (Spa) Lampre 73 Jonathan Patrick Mc Carty (USA) US Postal-Berry Floor 74 Martin Elmiger (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems 0.45 75 Angelo Furlan (Ita) Alessio-Bianchi 1.42 76 José Antonio Lopez (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto 1.52 77 Cezary Zamana (Pol) Chocolade Jacques Wincor 1.58 78 Kevin Hulsmans (Bel) Quick Step-Davitamon 2.09 79 Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Team CSC 80 Roy Sentjens (Ned) Rabobank 2.27 81 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) Credit Agricole 82 Joost Posthuma (Ned) Rabobank 83 Nicolas Vogondy (Fra) Fdjeux.Com 84 Carlos Da Cruz (Fra) Fdjeux.Com 85 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo 2.53 86 Steffen Wesemann (Ger) T-Mobile Team 87 Dariusz Baranowski (Pol) Liberty Seguros 88 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Team CSC 89 Erwin Thijs (Bel) Mrbookmaker.Com-Palmans 90 Guillaume Auger (Fra) R.A.G.T. Semences-Mg Rover 91 Mikel Pradera (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto 92 Martin Hvastija (Slo) Alessio-Bianchi 93 Isidro Nozal (Spa) Liberty Seguros 94 Aitor Silloniz (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 95 Josu Silloniz (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 96 Massimiliano Mori (Ita) Domina Vacanze 97 Francesco Failli (Ita) Domina Vacanze 98 Thomas Ziegler (Ger) Gerolsteiner 99 Denys Kostyuk (Ukr) Chocolade Jacques Wincor 100 Jorg Jaksche (Ger) Team CSC 101 Frank Hoj (Den) Team CSC 102 Geoffroy Lequatre (Fra) Credit Agricole 103 Matthieu Sprick (Fra) Brioches La Boulangere 104 Cadel Evans (Aus) T-Mobile Team 105 Jérémy Hunt (GBr) Mrbookmaker.Com-Palmans 106 Kévin Van Impe (Bel) Lotto-Domo 107 Mikel Artetxe (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 108 Baden Cooke (Aus) Fdjeux.Com 3.20 109 René Andrle (Cze) Liberty Seguros 4.44 110 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner 111 Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukr) Ag2R Prevoyance 112 Francisco Ventoso (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir 113 Markel Irizar (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 114 Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner 115 Jan Hruska (Cze) Liberty Seguros 116 Cédric Herve (Fra) Credit Agricole 117 Maryan Hary (Fra) Brioches La Boulangere 118 Rony Martias (Fra) Brioches La Boulangere 119 Alessandro Cortinovis (Ita) Lampre 120 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre 121 Christophe Oriol (Fra) Ag2R Prevoyance 122 Erki Pütsep (Est) Ag2R Prevoyance 123 Cyril Dessel (Fra) Phonak Hearing Systems 124 José Ivan Gutierrez (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto 125 Geert Verheyen (Bel) Chocolade Jacques Wincor 126 Peter Farazijn (Bel) Cofidis Credit Par Telephone 127 Jurgen Van De Walle (Bel) Chocolade Jacques Wincor 128 Max Van Heeswijk (Ned) US Postal-Berry Floor 129 Stephan Schreck (Ger) T-Mobile Team 130 Fabio Baldato (Ita) Alessio-Bianchi 131 Vicente Garcia Acosta (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto 132 Aart Vierhouten (Ned) Lotto-Domo 5.54 133 Leon Van Bon (Ned) Lotto-Domo 134 Peter Wuyts (Bel) Mrbookmaker.Com-Palmans 135 Jens Renders (Bel) Mrbookmaker.Com-Palmans 136 Thomas Eriksen (Den) Team CSC 137 Michael Rogers (Aus) Quick Step-Davitamon 138 Davide Bramati (Ita) Quick Step-Davitamon 139 Nicolas Reynaud (Fra) R.A.G.T. Semences-Mg Rover 7.28 140 Mauricio Ardila (Col) Chocolade Jacques Wincor 141 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Lampre 7.31 142 Bram Tankink (Ned) Quick Step-Davitamon 143 Javier Ramirez (Spa) Liberty Seguros 144 Michael Creed (USA) US Postal-Berry Floor 145 Brian Vandborg (Den) Team CSC 146 Gerben Löwik (Ned) Chocolade Jacques Wincor 147 Giosuè Bonomi (Ita) Saeco 148 Nicolas Fritsch (Fra) Fdjeux.Com 149 Frédéric Bessy (Fra) Cofidis Credit Par Telephone 150 Jimmy Engoulvent (Fra) Cofidis Credit Par Telephone 8.49 151 Unai Osa (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto 10.19 152 Luca Paolini (Ita) Quick Step-Davitamon 153 Matthew White (Aus) Cofidis Credit Par Telephone 12.11 154 Jimmy Casper (Fra) Cofidis Credit Par Telephone 155 Mikel Astarloza (Spa) Ag2R Prevoyance 156 Nicola Gavazzi (Ita) Saeco Did not finish DNF Nick Nuyens (Bel) Quick Step-Davitamon DNF Guennadi Mikhailov (Rus) US Postal-Berry Floor DNF Stefano Casagranda (Ita) Saeco DNF Niki Aebersold (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems DNF Koldo Fernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi DNF Aketza Pena (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi DNF Ellis Rastelli (Ita) Alessio-Bianchi DNF Walter Beneteau (Fra) Brioches La Boulangere DNF Christophe Kern (Fra) Brioches La Boulangere DNF Freddy Bichot (Fra) FDJeux.com DNF Joan Horrach (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto DNF Sébastien Joly (Fra) Credit Agricole DNF Mads Kaggestad (Nor) Credit Agricole DNF Eric Leblacher (Fra) Credit Agricole DNF Damien Nazon (Fra) Credit Agricole DNF Juan Jose Cobo (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir DNF Angel Gomez (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir DNF David Canada (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir DNF Manuele Mori (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir DNF Oliver Zaugg (Swi) Saunier Duval-Prodir DNF Nicolas Inaudi (Fra) Ag2R Prevoyance DNF Jean-Patrick Nazon (Fra) Ag2R Prevoyance DNF Nicolas Portal (Fra) Ag2R Prevoyance DNF Ben Day (Aus) Mrbookmaker.Com-Palmans DNF Kristof Trouve (Bel) Mrbookmaker.Com-Palmans DNF Eddy Seigneur (Fra) R.A.G.T. Semences-Mg Rover DNF Eric Berthou (Fra) R.A.G.T. Semences-Mg Rover DNF Nicolas Dulac (Fra) R.A.G.T. Semences-Mg Rover DNF Frédéric Finot (Fra) R.A.G.T. Semences-Mg Rover DNF Michele Scarponi (Ita) Domina Vacanze DNF Alexandre Bazhenov (Rus) Domina Vacanze DNF Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Domina Vacanze
1 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick.Step-Davitamon 340 pts 2 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 327 3 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank 252 4 Erik Dekker (Ned) Rabobank 237 5 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis, Le Crédit par Téléphone 186 6 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 140 7 Steffen Wesemann (Ger) T-Mobile Team 131 8 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile Team 108 9 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Lotto-Domo 105 10 Igor Astarloa (Spa) Lampre 96 11 Leif Hoste (Bel) Lotto-Domo 84 12 George Hincapie (USA) US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor 77 13 Mirko Celestino (Ita) Saeco 72 14 Leon Van Bon (Ned) Lotto-Domo 68 15 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 46 16 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Saeco 43 17 Romans Vainsteins (Lat) Lampre 43 18 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo 40 19 Frank Høj (Den) Team CSC 40 20 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) T-Mobile Team 40 21 Marcus Zberg (Swi) Gerolsteiner 39 22 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) FDJeux.com 39 23 Andreas Klier (Ger) T-Mobile Team 37 24 Max Van Heeswijk (Ned) US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor 36 25 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Domina Vacanze 32 26 Laurent Brochard (Fra) AG2r Prévoyance 30 27 Cristian Moreni (Ita) Alessio-Bianchi 30 28 Rolf Aldag (Ger) T-Mobile Team 28 29 Oscar Camenzind (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems 25 30 Andrej Hauptman (Slo) Lampre 23 31 Axel Merckx (Bel) Lotto-Domo 19 32 Michele Bartoli (Ita) Team CSC 18 33 Frank Vandenbroucke (Bel) MrBookmaker.com-Palmans 18 34 Paolo Bossoni (Ita) Lampre 16 35 Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Liberty Seguros 16 36 Thierry Marichal (Bel) Lotto-Domo 15 37 Luca Paolini (Ita) Quick.Step-Davitamon 14 38 Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Domina Vacanze 12 39 Fabio Baldato (Ita) Alessio-Bianchi 12 40 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Fassa Bortolo 11 41 Daniele Nardello (Ita) T-Mobile Team 11 42 Roberto Petito (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 7 43 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner 4 44 Martin Elmiger (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems 3 45 Lars Michaelsen (Den) Team CSC 3 46 Matthew White (Aus) Cofidis, Le Crédit par Téléphone 1 *Riders must ride at least six World Cup races to qualify for points