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92nd Tour de France - July 2-24, 2005
The battle for the Maillot Vert
Sprinters play down chances for green
Tom Boonen's withdrawal from the Tour and, by default, the points competition, has more than one sprinter licking their lips at the thought of wearing the maillot vert in Paris. But the two Australians behind de-facto points leader Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) aren't showing their excitement just yet, knowing that there's still plenty of work to do, as Anthony Tan reports from Montpellier
"I think it's going to be a hard competition; the Pyrenées is going to be very hot and very hard, and there's a lot of tired guys out there," said Cofidis' Stuart O'Grady at the start of the thirteenth stage in Miramas Friday afternoon. "I think it's going to be the best of us that passes the mountains."
At the conclusion of today's stage, 31 year-old O'Grady currently lies in second place behind Hushovd, the powerful Norwegian 14 points clear of the South Australian, while Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto), who, after his third stage win of the race, is only eight points behind his fellow countryman in third spot.
The day before, McEwen sent his team to the front in an attempt to bring back what turned out to be a winning break, expending precious energy on the road to Digne-les-Bains. "We've got four guys that could ride, but they're also very, very tired," admitted McEwen. "All the other teams will be sending riders up the road trying to get in a breakaway. It's a normal scenario at the end of the second week of the Tour - it just doesn't stay together."
But today, McEwen's team rode magnificently to single-handedly bring back the breakaway of Chris Horner and Sylvain Chavanel with less than a kilometre to go, and as a result, he now finds himself within striking distance of the green jersey. Asked if he was annoyed that his team was doing the lion's share of the work the last two days, the Aussie pocket rocket said if he were in Hushovd or O'Grady's position, his team would have done the same.
"I understand that tactic - their tactic is revolving around the green jersey competition. And they both know if it comes down to a bunch sprint, there's bigger differences in the points between the places, and they pretty much know they're going to get beaten - they're going to lose points to me... so I would do exactly the same thing. But my team are not afraid to lay it on the line and race to win."
McEwen also made mention of the fact that both he and O'Grady came to the Tour to win a stage win first and think about the maillot vert second, whereas for Hushovd, it was the other way round. As a consequence, neither of the two Aussies have contested any intermediate sprints so far, unlike Hushovd, who has been scoring points wherever possible.
"I think Thor Hushovd would also like a stage win, but he came here with the aim of a green jersey, and from the five bunch sprints we've had, he's scored in every single one. You look at the others; O'Grady's missed one, I've missed two.
"If you can hold the green jersey to Paris, it's good, but I think you can say at this stage - and I've said it before - it's not necessarily the best sprinter that has the green jersey, it's the most consistent rider... which is a totally different thing," McEwen said.
Whatever the case, the points competition is far from over, and 27 year-old Hushovd is well aware a rider like Stuart O'Grady only gets stronger as the race goes on. Asked if Hushovd should feel threatened, O'Grady said rather casually: "Yeah.,. well, I'm feeling pretty good...
"I'm going to take the race to the guys, I'm going to be aggressive - they know that. I'm not one to sit back and wait. So, hopefully, we have the hard, long stages and the heat; I prefer it, it's better for me.
"Now what's going to happen is that the three of us will try and neutralise each other out of the race. There's not going to be too many more bunch sprints, I don't think, so there's a lot more going to be played in the hard stages in the Pyrenées."
Out of Hushovd, O'Grady and McEwen, only the latter rider has tasted the success of a stage win so far, so it was interesting to hear the 33 year-old Queenslander's perspective on the difference between a stage victory and overall success in the green jersey competition.
"I think of it this way: a stage win is the adrenalin rush, the really big excitement of winning a stage.... the few seconds of explosion, and it's a fantastic feeling. When you win the green jersey, it's more like you cross the line in Paris just with relief - and a weight falls off your shoulders, because it's been weeks of stress. That's a totally different feeling," he said.