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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News for July 12, 2006

Edited by Jeff Jones

Stage 9 wrap-up

Two for Freire, as Tour speeds to the Pyrenees

Freire and McEwen
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

The sprinters were at it again in today's fast 9th stage between Bordeaux and Dax, where Spanish speedster Oscar Freire performed his trademark kick at 50m to go to come past Erik Zabel and Tom Boonen. But he was nearly trumped by Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto), who got stuck in traffic but managed to manoeuvre his way through a hole on the left of the bunch to take second by less than half a wheel. Zabel claimed third ahead of Boonen, who again saw the finish line too early.

The pan-flat stage - the first after yesterday's rest day - saw three riders on the attack after km 7: Christian Knees (Milram) went first, and was joined by Stephane Augé (Cofidis) and Walter Beneteau (Bouygues Telecom) once the gap became great enough. The three worked well to build up a lead of almost eight minutes after 61 km, before several sprinters teams combined forces to chase them down. It looked like being a close finish until the cooperation vanished up front with Knees continually attacking his companions. It was all to nought, and the break was swallowed with 4 km to go.

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The sprint was started by Quick.Step, but Matteo Tosatto proved to be the weak link in the train, forcing Boonen's lead out man De Jongh to use his energy too early chasing a surge by Credit Agricole. When Boonen went, Zabel had him covered and snuck past the world champion 50m before the line. But then Freire came from behind to claim the stage, with McEwen popping up through the middle for a close second place.

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An interview with Oscar Freire

The strongest doesn't always win

Rabobank’s Oscar Freire won his third stage in the Tour de France, beating Robbie McEwen on the line in Dax on Tuesday. Afterwards, in the press conference, he explained to the journalists how he appreciated his victory, the second at this year’s Tour. Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé reports.

Q: You didn't celebrate when you crossed the line, why was that?

Oscar Freire (Rabobank)
Photo ©: Sirotti
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OF: Well, I didn't know that I had won the race, as McEwen was closing in very fast. Also, there were some experiences in the past where I learned that it’s dangerous the celebrate too soon. In Milan-Sanremo, I won after Zabel raised his arm too early [in 2004]. This year, I was in the losing position when I thought I had won the race, but it turned out that Valverde was the winner [during the first stage of the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco]. Besides that, I didn't celebrate because I didn't know if the breakaway had yet been caught or not.

Q: After your first stage win, you said that you started off too early, and this sprint looked more academic. Is there a sort of sprint you can't win in the Tour de France?

OF: Hmm... a sprint after a mountain stage might be impossible for me (laughs). The sprints over here are very difficult, because nobody shows respect for another. Due to the way the sprints are unfolding, it’s not always the strongest rider who wins the race. For example today, I might not have been the strongest in the race.

Click here to read the full interview.

Boonen still confident

By Brecht Decaluwé in Dax

Tom Boonen (Quickstep)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
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After the finish of stage 9 in Dax, won by Oscar Freire, Tom Boonen reacted very cool after another chance had gone begging. Still, the World Champion showed some arrogance, as he was quoted as saying, "Put all the major sprinters in the Tour on one line, at 200 metres from the finish line; I'll win with an advantage of four bike lengths on the second sprinter."

The Belgian, still without a victory in this Tour, was unhappy with Milram's lead out man, Marco Velo. He didn't do anything wrong, but Boonen said that he had made a "smart" move which hindered him.

Surprise guest in Dax: Cipo is here!

By Brecht Decaluwé in Dax

Mario Cipollini
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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Former world champion and master of the sprint, Mario Cipollini, was also present at the stage in Dax. The Italian of course gave his analysis of the sprint. "To me, it's strange to see that the sprints are very badly organised by the teams. There's no team controlling the bunch in the last 500 metres, not even in the last kilometre. I think Boonen needs a good train, as he is favoured by a sprint at higher speeds. McEwen and Freire have the same capabilities; they're both fast but also very agile in the sprint."

Laurent Jalabert, former winner of the green jersey, gave his opinion on Boonen's failures. "Quick.Step wants the green jersey with Boonen, but they also want a good GC with Garate and Rujano. The team might not be strong enough to chase those two objectives," he analysed.

Pineau believes in polkadots

By Brecht Decaluwé in Dax

Jerome Pineau (Bouygues)
Photo ©: Hedwig Kröner
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With the real mountains coming up, the red-dotted jersey might slip out of the hands of Bouygues Telecom's Jérôme Pineau. The French rider didn't agree with that. "Tomorrow, I hope that I can show that I can also take points on mountains other than those in Normandy. The ‘cols' are not really my cup of tea, but I'll go flat out to defend the jersey."

Pineau is a big believer of 'cycling at two speeds' - the French explanation for some rider's good results due to alleged doping practices. "I think we can expect surprises with some GC riders," he added.

Stage 9 time losses

By Brecht Decaluwé in Dax

During today's stage, there were some gaps in the peloton which gave some GC riders with an unexpected time loss. Knowing that you can win the Tour by only eight seconds, it could prove to be very costly for some of them. The reason for the gaps was a crash, which included Levi Leipheimer. The Gerolsteiner leader finished 1'45 behind Oscar Freire, but was granted the same time of the riders surrounding him before the fall. Thus, the American lost only 26 seconds, but he is still 6'43 away from the yellow jersey.

The second part of the peloton that finished 13 seconds back, was led by T-Mobile's Matthias Kessler. He might have smiled if he saw that he was followed by Iban Mayo, Pietro Caucchioli and Chechu Rubiera. Somewhat further in that group was Denis Menchov; the Russian is now trailing Serguei Gonchar by 2'13. Markus Fothen, leader in the young rider classification, also lost 13 seconds on Thomas Lövkvist and José Rujano, but still retained the jersey. A small third group, with Michael Rasmussen, finished at 20 seconds of the winner.

Caisse d'Epargne on the first week

The Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears riders are riding the Tour de France without leader Alejandro Valverde, who crashed out in stage 3 last week. Nevertheless, they are confident that they can show themselves in the mountains. With the average speed in the first half of the Tour being so much lower than it was last year, it's been a different experience for the boys in black and red.

David Arroyo noted, "The beginning of the Tour was absolutely not similar to the one we had last year. The tension was less. Personally I went through that first week without any problems. In the mountains I will try to stay in front to help our leaders. If the circumstances allow me to do so I will try to go with a breakaway and claim a stage victory. Of course!"

Xabier Zandio agreed, saying, "The first week was a little strange, but not as difficult as it was the years before. The race will really start tomorrow. At the moment I feel very well and I think you can expect me in front in the mountains. I am confident and motivated, but before starting the first climb it is impossible to know if my legs will be ok or not. I think that the second stage in the Pyrenees is really a hard one, even if I am sure this year the Alps will be decisive. The Tour is more open than ever and I think the fans will really enjoy the race because there will be more equality and more rivalry between the favourites than there was in the past years."

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