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Photo ©: Sirotti

Cycling News Extra for July 15, 2006

Edited by Jeff Jones & Shane Stokes, with assistance from Sabine Sunderland

Le Mével, the "invalid" who can race

By Jean-François Quénet in Carcassonne

Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Prior to the start of stage 12, Thor Hushovd reminded his French team-mate Christophe Le Mével of something: "I won on the Norwegian national day (on May 17 in the Tour of Catalunya), it's up to you today!" The Breton rider from Crédit Agricole was happy to escape on Bastille Day but he quickly understood there was no hope for a stage. "Maybe it could have worked if I wasn't the only Frenchman in that group of four," Le Mével explained. "These guys were talking a lot!"

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He knew that Yaroslav Popovych, Alessandro Ballan and Oscar Freire were too strong for him to repeat his stage win from the Giro d'Italia last year. "I didn't feel very good," he said. "My legs were hurting badly. There were all faster than me in sprinting and I probably had used up too much power in the first breakaway. I'm from Brittany, I don't cope with the heat! It's still a positive attitude to be in a breakaway at the Tour de France but my assessment of the stage isn't a top one. Finishing fourth out of four is pretty disappointing, actually."

Le Mével is a rookie at the Tour de France. He became known for the fact that his 20th birthday was on September 11th at the 2001 Tour de l'Avenir. The following year he crashed badly at the Four Days of Dunkirk. His sciatic nerve was totally severed and his recovery took a long time. In fact, the French welfare system still rates him as partially disabled for work. He can't run, for example, but he can cycle.

Finishing fourth
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Last year, he amazed the journalists at the Giro d'Italia when he announced in a press conference his relationship with Laura, an Italian brunette who was assisting cycling photographer Roberto Bettini. His family back home didn't know about that and were informed via the press. Now Laura still follows him at the Tour de France and the couple attracted a lot of media attention at the time of the world cup soccer final, Italy vs. France.

Not surprisingly, Le Mével rooms with Pietro Caucchioli. "Italy is my second country, he said. But I still love mine as well. It would have been fantastic to win on Bastille Day, but it was definitely not possible."

Boonen and Peeters play down tension with Davitamon

Tom Boonen and Wilfried Peeters were interviewed before the start of stage 13. The Quick.Step-Innergetic duo talked about the race and about reports of tension between Boonen and green jersey Robbie McEwen, particularly after the latter continued to race yesterday when the other riders stopped for a toilet break.

"During yesterday’s stage, I consulted Boonen about the choice on team tactics," Peeters told Cyclingnews. "We decided not to chase the leaders as Tom wasn't feeling great. Today, for the first time during the Tour de France Boonen felt better. But it’s a very long stage and I'm wondering who will take the responsibility to lead a chase.

"Yesterday there were some troubles because Davitamon ignored the sign of Landis to take a break. But Landis and McEwen have different goals, so I can understand it. We didn't interfere in the discussion that started about the rules in the peloton. I guess the fatigue is making it hard for everyone, as the peloton was riding hard for almost 100 km at that moment."

"Everyone is in a good mood this morning. It's a very long stage today, with temperatures above 35 degrees. It's going to be a tough one."

Tom Boonen was then interviewed by Radio Donna while signing photos in the start village. "I feel ok, thanks; I actually woke up Lore [his girlfriend] earlier, ha! She sounded a bit hung-over, she always has this great deep voice in the morning.

"I do feel better but I panicked a bit about the pain yesterday. It didn't really bother me much any more later on during the stage though. The stomach still hasn't settled completely really but I'll cope. The heat will be murder again. I hope today a good break goes early so that we can take it a bit easier. Unlike yesterday."

He was then asked as to his feelings towards McEwen. "No, I'm not angry at Robbie, I'm just not kindly disposed towards him that's all. But I assure you I'm not the only one here to feel like that; there were about 180 riders (actually 164 - ed.) thinking the same yesterday. Let me put it like this: McEwen definitely didn't make any friends in the peloton yesterday."

Boonen's girlfriend: "Tom never stays angry for long"

Lore, Tom Boonen's girlfriend gave her own view on yesterday's stage this morning in an interview with Radio Donna. The eroding friendship between the two Belgian sprinters teams in this Tour is hot news in Belgium. The fact that McEwen broke the unwritten law that the peloton stops for a call of nature whenever the Yellow Jersey feels the need might not have gone down well within the peloton itself, but in Belgian newspapers and national TV news bulletins the disagreement between Boonen and McEwen has been built up into a more serious issue.

As usual, Lore isn't really worried about it. "I have to say, I only saw the last 15km. But I heard something about what happened during the stage. I only know that Tom was a bit irritated after the stage yesterday; but he's never angry for long. It's really hard to have a quarrel with Tom, he doesn't like that at all, it's almost impossible for him to stay angry with someone. He forgets about it as soon as he turns his back.

"It's true Tom wasn't feeling good on Thursday; but he says he is getting better now, so that's positive to hear. I thought it was good to see him beat McEwen again. To see him pull those handlebars like that is great. We were laughing here in front of the telly, my friend was saying 'look at it, what a bear of a man Tom is, and on those small tyres!' It sometimes looks like his bike will fold under his strength."

Steegmans suffering

Gert Steegmans (Davitamon Lotto) also gave a radio interview before the start of stage 13. He said that he is under pressure. "At this moment I'm not feeling super; I've got problems breathing," he stated. "The lungs are a bit infected. Yesterday I thought a few times of quitting the race as I didn't feel comfortable all day. I felt worthless not being able to do anything for the team, and especially when the pace was so high. During the race I tried to motivate myself to keep going. We'll see how it goes today."

Tour of Attrition

"Have you seen all stars and planets in one afternoon before, in broad daylight? No? I have!" former lanterne rouge Wim Vansevenant told the Belgian press after yesterday's stage. "Inhuman," he described the last few stages of the Tour. Although only eleven riders had abandoned thus far before Carcassonne, suddenly five more victims were added to that list yesterday.

"The nature of today's stage is to blame. You can't compare different Tours de France. One and a half week on the flat roads. It gives you a bit of time. But to say it wasn't hard until now...The unravelling has started!"

However Davitamon soigneur Dirk Lenaers is quoted in HNB as saying things aren't that bad. "I haven't got the impression that the riders are more tired than otherwise," he said. "On the contrary; I haven't heard them complain on the massage table. Not even after Pla-de-Beret. There wasn't a Discovery train to make the tempo. The speed of this Tour is a lot lower than was the case in previous years. Don't forget two teams didn't make it to the start at all. There's less nervousness, fewer crashes.

"We won't have to wait till the Alps though (to see guys in trouble). I know those so-called transition stages. For sure the one on Sunday towards Gap. Murder! Continuously uphill, a descent on rough asphalt. And on top of that the heat which is common in that area during the summer months. I would wait to make up an assessment about a Tour which is less hard and has fewer abandons. Within a few days, a lot can change, watch my words."

Gerrie van Gerwen (Milram), on the other hand, says the increase in comfort has made sure the riders are able to hang in longer: "The quality of the hotels has increased enormously. Our riders have been enjoying mostly air-conditioned rooms and sleep better in this heat. They are getting more specialised nutrition and comfortable buses to make the transfers with."

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