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Cycling News Extra for July 13, 2006

Edited by Jeff Jones, Shane Stokes, John Stevenson & John Kenny

AG2R's fairytale

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Cyclingnews will cover the 60th edition of the Dauphiné Libéré live as of stage 4 on Wednesday, June 10, at approximately 15:00 local Europe time (CEST)/ 23:00 Australian time (CDT)/ 9:00 (USA East).

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By Jean-François Quénet in Pau

Cyril Dessel (AG2R)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

AG2R was one of the most devastated teams at the start of the Tour de France in Strasbourg, but they are now over the moon as they are leading the team competition as well as the overall classification and king of the Mountains competition with Cyril Dessel. After Sylvain Calzati's stage win in Lorient, they are also full of hope for a top three finish with Christophe Moreau in Paris.

One year ago, AG2R was an invited team at the Tour de France, much as Agritubel is this year. As they were trying to enter the Pro Tour, they did their best to attract top riders. "For a while we hoped to get Alexandre Vinokourov back," team manager Vincent Lavenu explained. "He had won big races with us, like the Dauphiné at the time of the Casino-AG2R team. Maybe he had too big ambitions when he thought that Liberty Seguros would be more helpful than us for him to win the Tour de France, but we can't blame him."

Lavenu made it clear with Moreau that there would be another leader. It became Francisco Mancebo instead of Vino, but the whole project fell through prior to the start of the Tour. Two days before, the Spaniard didn't hesitate one moment before signing a piece of paper stating that he had nothing to do with 'Operation Puerto'. Then he rode flat out while training with his teammates. He gave them an explanation: "This is the last time of my life that I hurt my legs on a bike." He knew it was all over. Since he returned to Spain, he has reconsidered pulling out of cycling for good, but either way his future will not be with AG2R.

"Some riders weren't too motivated at the start," Lavenu recalls. "It has taken a lot of work to put the team back together thanks to the friendship between the guys." AG2R might have a long history with riders from the former Eastern bloc, they're now composed of some Spaniards and one Australian (Simon Gerrans), but they're a local team from the Rhône-Alpes region, born in 1992 under the name of Chazal-Vanille et Mûre. Lavenu hails from Chambéry in the Alps, where the team is based. Dessel and Calzati are from Lyon, as is Samuel Dumoulin whose girlfriend Magalie Lavenu (Vincent's daughter) is the team's press officer. "There's a family atmosphere here", Gerrans realized last year.

"Having the yellow jersey in the Tour de France brings a lot of happiness, it's so rare in a team," said Lavenu. However this isn't the first time he's been in this position as Jaan Kirsipuu led the race for six days in 1999. It also gives confidence once more to the French cyclists, who can see they're able to influence the race. "We'll try to defend it intelligently. We've got resources for the mountains. We hope this situation will help Moreau on GC as well. We all know that Moreau has the potential for a top 10, but with the top 5 riders from last year all missing, it's reasonable to believe that he can make a top 5. So our goal is to place him on the final podium in Paris. He has time trialled better than in the Dauphiné; if he climbs just as well as in the Dauphiné, the top three is something realistic."

Jurdie delighted for Dessel

By Brecht Decaluwé in Pau

Post-stage crush
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Julien Jurdie is one of the directeurs sportif in the AG2R team, but more than that, he's one of the best friends of the new yellow jersey Cyril Dessel. Cyclingnews spoke with him at the finish line: "It was a great day for me to see him perform so well. We know each other for so long and he's a really good friend. In the past, we were racing together until our paths diverged. That was because I stopped riding the bike and became a directeur. Starting this year, we've been working together again and he did great. He has lots of confidence and recovers really well. He must be capable of keeping the jersey longer than one day."

Australians survive Day 1 in the Pyrenees

By John Trevorrow in Pau

The first day in the Pyrenees has provided a big change to the leader board, but the names probably won't mean a huge amount for the final classification. In fact, guys like new maillot jaune, Frenchman Cyril Dessel, stage winner and second on GC, Spaniard Juan Miguel Mercado and Italian Cristian Moreni, will almost certainly drop out of contention as the race continues.

It was a strange race on stage 10. The eight man break got a lead of 11 minutes before the T Mobile squad of leader Serguei Gonchar and Aussie Michael Rogers started to lift the tempo. Matthias Kessler, winner of stage five, was very strong on the climbs and set a good pace but not fast enough to reduce the gap and keep the yellow jersey. Gonchar never looked comfortable and looks certain to drop well back in the real climbs.

There doesn't seem to be any team in charge, unlike in past years with Lance and Discovery/US Postal, who never let a break get such a big lead while one of them was in yellow. In the end, Rogers had to join the fray and, although the time lost will not mean anything in the overall picture, it was energy spent that would have been better saved.

Cadel Evans looked very comfortable on the climbs. He sat near the front and appeared to be cruising.

Robbie McEwen was worried about this stage before the start. "Because it is 35 kilometres from the final climb to the finish, Oscar Freire could be close enough to the main peloton to win the stage," McEwen said.

But as it turned out, it wasn't Freire, but Bennati and Zabel who led the bunch in and grabbed a handful of points back. However McEwen still comfortably leads the battle for the Maillot Vert by 23 points.

Pre-stage 10 quotes

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon) was spotted discreetly hiding behind a newspaper in the "Champion" marquee in the official village. Being the sponsor of the best climber competition, few would think to find him there.

"I got the girl to put the chairs in front to give me some peace but you found me anyway," Robbie quipped. It wasn't that difficult as the green jersey does stand out, even from behind the pages of L'Equipe.

Robbie went on to talk about the stage and felt that it wouldn't be a stage for the contenders but would be a dangerous day for him. As the final climb was 35 kilometres from the finish, he felt that Freire could be close enough to the main peloton to win the stage. But he wasn't too perturbed as he felt there would time to get those points back.

Cadel Evans (Davitamon) told us, "I'm looking forward to the Pyrenees. I've always preferred them to the Alps. It's just a shame we don't have more days here. Today won't be a day for the contenders. I reckon a break could get away and take the stage. But tomorrow is a different story."

Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis) said, "I've been enjoying it so far and we're half way now. The next week will be hard and I would like to come out of the mountains feeling good enough to do a strong time trial. But that's a long way off."

Axel Merckx renews with Phonak

The Phonak cycling team has announced that Axel Merckx has renewed his contract with the Swiss-bases outfit for another year. "Merckx will ride for our team next year as well," said the team's general manager John Lelangue. "I'm convinced that his experience and his personality will help to develop our team further."

Merckx will therefore end his career with Phonak. "After 2007, that's it," he said. "Then it'll be time to set priorities and focus on my family and life after professional cycling."

Nevertheless, Merckx feels his 15th and final year as a pro won't be a sinecure. "I still feel capable of setting the course athletically, and doing the hard work is a lot of fun on this team," he said.

Lelangue said that Phonak plans to renew the contracts of all its riders who are currently taking part in the Tour de France while the Tour is on.

Vuelta opens door for Astana

By Antonio J. Salmerón

Manuel Díaz, commercial director of Vuelta a España organizer, Unipublic announced yesterday that the organisaiton plans to apply the same ethical rules to the Vuelta as had governed this year's Tour de France. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Astana team which was excluded from the Tour, would be unable to race the Spanish event.

Diaz said that Astana's participation in the Spanish tour was "very possible," adding that, "the new sponsor is very interested in the Vuelta a España." Díaz described Astana's situation as "atypical".

"Astana left the Tour because it did not have sufficient riders to participate, but not for another reason," said Diaz. The entire Astana team was excluded from the Tour de France because five of its nine Tour riders were under investigation as part of Operacion Puerto. With those riders removed under the ProTour teams' ethical code, Astana was left with too few to start the race. However, the organisers of the Tour had previously expressed their determination to prevent Astana from starting.

According to Diaz, the managers of the Astana team were in the process of negotiating to buy the team. "This gives us the possibility of having Astana in the Vuelta a España and seeing the Vinokourov-Valverde duel, that we were not able to see in the Tour de France," he said.

Tour de Gastown to raise funds for cancer research

Organisers of the 26th Annual Tour de Gastown, in combination with other events, held on July 19 will again donate all funds to BC Cancer Foundation. Last year $100,000 was raised.

The event begins with a family bike festival and then a 1.2 km race through the district's historic cobblestone streets, where over 180 elite racers will compete for over $15,000 dollars in prize money.

"The Tour de Gastown has become a great fundraiser for the BC Cancer Foundation," said foundation president and CEO Mary McNeil. "It is an exciting way to celebrate some of the world's best athletes and support a major local cause and we are proud to be part of this prestigious event."

The Tour de Gastown is the centerpiece of BC Superweek. The event attracts many of the top racers in North America. Large crowds are expected - last year over 35,000 people turned out for race day. Past winners of the Tour de Gastown include seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, Gord Fraser, Gina Grain and North Vancouver's Allison Sydor.

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