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An interview with Pieter Weening, July 9, 2005
How close? 0.0002 seconds
Pieter Weening (Rabobank) took his first professional win today in the eighth stage of the Tour de France, in a desperately close two man sprint with 2004 Tour runner-up Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile).
But in the end, Weening was awarded the win by just 0.0002 seconds, which has to be one of the smallest winning margins ever. Cyclingnews' Anthony Tan reports from Gérardmer.
Until today, Pieter Weening had come close to victory on several occasions, but lacked the luck or the legs to make it happen. At the third stage of the 2004 Tour of Germany, on a similarly difficult course to the one he conquered today, he beat Andreas Klöden and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano in a three-man sprint to place third.
Two months later and also in Germany, he finished second in a 23 kilometre time trial to Davide Rebellin at the Sachsen-Tour International.
This year, on the day he turned 24, the lanky Dutchman came within three kilometres of giving himself a birthday present in the form of a ProTour stage win on the second stage of the Tour of the Basque Country (Vuelta al Pais Vasco).
So a win was always on the cards - it was just a matter of time. "When Klöden caught me [at the top of the Col de la Schlucht], I said to myself: 'The same thing can't happen to me again.'"
Weening also said today's parcours suited him perfectly, but at the start of the day, he was just trying to hang on.
"Till now, there was just flat stages and this wasn't for me. I had to wait for today with those first real climbs of the Tour, but the first hour was very, very hard. At the beginning, my legs didn't feel that good, but I think it was the same for everyone," he said.
"When some riders tried to break away, I saw Discovery Channel was letting them go because there was no dangerous riders in the break. I saw a possibility to go in the break, so I just went for it."
Which is what he did for the next 100 kilometres, Weening and his six breakaway companions working in unison to take their advantage above the six-minute mark.
But at the foot of the Col de la Schlucht, their lead was around two minutes and closing.
"On the final climb, I was certain we would get caught from behind, so if I wanted to win, I had to attack myself and that's just what I did," Weening explained.
Behind him, the peloton had split to pieces courtesy of a flurry of attacks from Alexandre Vinokourov, and only Klöden managed to bridge the gap to him nearing the crest of the climb.
With last year's Tour runner-up for company, it was both good and bad news for the Tour rookie: "We exchanged a few words, but it was to say we have to get to the finish and to give our best shot," he said.
"Of course, I knew we were just two riders at the top and we still had to go down, and I just hoped it was possible for us to stay away.
"Klöden is obviously a very strong rider, but in the sprint with just two riders, you never know what can happen. I thought I had the edge, so I just stayed on his wheel for most of the time and waited for the sprint."
Neither rider boasted a particularly fast finish, but the stage was contested just as fiercely as the sprints we've seen between McEwen and Boonen, and in the end, a photo-finish was required to decide the outcome.
"I saw my soigneur waiting for me and he was really happy, so I thought maybe I'd won the stage, but I had to ask him at least 20 times, 'Are you sure, are you sure?' - because I couldn't believe it," he said.
So where to now for Weening?
"Well, it's impossible to know what will happen in the future, but I hope I will become better and better with age. I hope I can be stronger than I am now and in a few years, I will have some ambitions to contest the overall classification.
"But not now - I think it's too early," he cautioned. "For this year and the next, I think I will just think about winning stages [at the Tour], and in the future, I'll think about the general classification."