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Cycling News Extra for July 16, 2006

Edited by Shane Stokes

Landis happy to wait

By Shane Stokes

Race leader Floyd Landis (Phonak)
Photo ©: Anthony Tan
(Click for larger image)

The big talk at the Tour after stage 13 was whether or not Phonak had erred in allowing Oscar Pereiro to take the race lead off the shoulders of Floyd Landis. The Swiss team rode at the front during the stage but appeared to be riding tempo rather than trying to bring the gap down to Pereiro and the other four leaders. Indeed, at one point the Rabobank team came to the front to assist the chase. While they could have been driving for their green jersey contender Oscar Freire, it is also conceivable that they were riding to keep Landis on top and thereby forcing Phonak to keep working in the days ahead.

Either way, Phonak came to the front again shortly afterwards and resumed the steady tempo setting until the Lampre team took over close to the finish. The bunch finished a full 29'57 behind Jens Voigt (CSC) and Pereiro, with the Caisse d'Epargne – Illes Balears rider ending the day 1'29 clear of Landis in the overall standings and a further eight seconds ahead of AG2R's Cyril Dessel.

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Pereiro finished a solid tenth in the Tour in 2004 and 2005, also taking a stage win last year, but Landis didn't seem too worried at the finish. "I don't think we need to keep the jersey every single day and I'm happy to see Pereiro in yellow," he told TV reporters in Montélimar. "He is an ex-team mate of mine and he looked happy up there [on the podium].

"You can never assume anything, but he was 30 minutes down before the stage today and there are still three hard mountain states to go. I think that's no matter what happens next, we have to gamble a little bit because we can't ride all day, every day. So there it is, that is our gamble."

Landis conceded that this is a very different tactic to that employed by his previous team, US Postal/Discovery Channel. "Yes, they were always confident that they could control at every day, and sometimes it works in your favour and it is easier. But a lot of times it is more difficult that way am I would rather be conservative."

Photo ©: AFP
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"Yesterday we were hoping a breakaway would go with some guys who were 30 minutes down. We weren't so lucky, it was a hard day for everyone. Today was better, we were lucky that it was a small group of guys and that all of them are pretty far back. We just took it easy; whether we caught them or not, we just wanted to ride at a certain speed. I think that people are going to look at us to control the race no matter what happens, whether we are in the lead or not, so for me it is better to save our team. We still have many days left to go."

He was then asked how long he would be comfortable not to be wearing yellow. "As long as I have it in Paris, even if I haven't won any stages, that will be fine…. I am definitely confident."

Team directeur sportif John Lelangue echoed that sentiment. "This fine," he said to the same reporters. "I think we only need it on the podium on the 23rd of July, like I said back in January. That is the big objective for me. For this reason, we prefer to leave it now and have a good strategy tomorrow and in the coming mountain stages. Then we will see."

"I know Pereiro well, he was in the team last year. With him, we know what is capacities are, what his abilities are. We know what is like the mountains, we have seen him in the Pyrenees. With this kind of gap, 1'25, I think it is okay. Of course, we don't give him six or seven minutes, but 1'20 to 2 minutes is for me a good strategy for us."

Lelangue was then asked if the team were playing with fire, given that sometimes a yellow jersey gives a rider extra strength. "Yes, I know but we play with fire every day with our strategies. That is our job," he replied. "But if I was not confident, we would never have taken this strategy."

Robbie looking good so far

By Shane Stokes

With just over a week to go until the end of the 2006 Tour de France, Robbie McEwen is looking in a very strong position to take his third maillot vert. At the end of stage 13 in Montélimar his margin over second-placed rider Tom Boonen is a comfortable 30 points, with Oscar Freire 45 in arrears.

This margin is over double that held by riders at the equivalent point in the five previous Tours de France. At Ax-3 Domaines in 2005, eventual winner Thor Hushovd was just 14 points clear of Stuart O'Grady, with McEwen 22 points down in third.

At Plateau de Beille in 2004, McEwen was 9 points ahead of Erik Zabel and 15 up on Hushovd. Looking further back, 2003 winner Baden Cooke was 8 points ahead of McEwen and 24 up on Hushovd at Plateau de Bonascre, while twelve months previously the total in Béziers saw McEwen exactly level with Zabel and 59 clear of O'Grady.

Finally, in Saint-Lary-Soulan (Pla d'Adet) in 2001, O'Grady was himself leading, holding a 13 point advantage over eventual winner Zabel. Lance Armstrong was 44 points back in third place.

Interestingly, McEwen's haul after two weeks of racing is greater than Hushovd's final total in 2005, and also either exceeds or equals the winning total in 2003 and 2001. McEwen has racked up a considerable 252 points this year; twelve months ago, Hushovd won with 194, while Cooke amassed 216 in 2003 and Erik Zabel finished on 252 in 2001.

McEwen previously took the green jersey in 2002 and 2004. Two years ago he ended the race on 272 points, 25 clear of Thor Hushovd. In 2002 he racked up 280 points as compared to Zabel's 261.

Rider soundbites

By Anthony Tan and Brecht Decaluwé in Montélimar

Hushovd taking it easy

Cyclingnews caught up with Thor Hushovd at the start of the stage today in Montélimar. The 2005 maillot vert winner was first asked about the arm which was cut in the stage one sprint and if it was giving him any more trouble. "No, I have no problems any more with it," was his response.

He was then asked if his Credit Agricole team might try to control the stage in order to set things up for a bunch gallop and thus give him the chance to take another stage win. "No, no, I am going to be taking it easy today," he stated.

Horner trying to recover

Chris Horner is another rider hoping for a quiet day in the saddle. Last year he rode a very aggressive Tour, going close to a stage win but being caught along with breakaway companion Sylvain Chavanel inside the final 300 metres of stage 13 to Montpellier.

However he told Cyclingnews this morning that he was holding back for now. "I am not going to try anything as I haven't been feeling very well in the last few stages. I am just going to try to recover a bit and survive."

Vansummeren determined, but frustrated

"I have tired to get into a break every day but there are 200 efforts by guys to get into an escape so it just doesn't work," said Horner's Davitamon-Lotto team-mate Johan Vansummeren at today's start. "But I will keep on trying."

The tall Belgian was happy with a big photo of him in today's L'Equipe. He said that stage 13 was a day for recovery. "Yesterday wasn't too hard, it was quite easy."

Victor Hugo Pena cautious

Although the Phonak team said after the race that they willingly gave away the race lead, their Colombian rider Victor Hugo Pena said this morning that he was a little worried. "It is good for us in that we can recover now. It is all about tactics and strategy. But I'm also a little bit worried in case it doesn't work out in the end for Floyd."

The tour keeps on changing

A new yellow jersey and a deserved stage winner

By John Trevorrow

Jens Voigt (CSC)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Jens Voigt is a German with an Aussie accent and a teammate of Stuart O'Grady. He has been the catalyst of many breakaways over the past week and finally one stayed clear. Amazingly, this time it was by nearly 30 minutes, a winning margin which threw second placed Spaniard Oscar Pereiro into the leader's maillot jaune.

Voigt spent a few years with the Australian Institute of Sport when they had a professional team and speaks with a definite Aussie twang.

Race favourite American Floyd Landis has dropped back to second place one minute 29 seconds back but is quite happy with the situation. It takes the pressure off his Phonak team who will not have to ride on the front to defend the jersey. That role will now fall on the new leader's team, Caisse d Epargne-Illes Balears, who may hold it for one more day, but will certainly lose it up the testing slopes of Alpe d'Huez.

Robbie McEwen snatched back the ascendancy in the fascinating battle for the green jersey. He comfortably beat Boonen in the bunch sprint while Freire was nowhere to be seen.

Before the start, rumour had it that McEwen was unhappy with the media because of a story on the web, and consequently didn't want to speak to the press. This turned out not to be the case. "I have done lots of interviews and I just wanted a relaxed start," he said. "It all went well and according to plan. I was happy to see a break get up the road with no GC guys and no one close in the points race. It was a long hot day but in the end I had a good sprint and had speed to burn.

"I haven't been on the internet since the tour started, but I suppose it is time to check my emails. I'm not interested in what others are saying about the race because I'm in it and I know what's going on. I'm also not interested in any controversies - true or fabricated. I'm only interested in winning the green jersey," a relaxed McEwen said.

Compatriot Stuart O'Grady had a comfortable day and was rapt with Voigt's win. "Awesome, we really needed that," he said. "No one deserves it more than Jens. He is an animal. He is one of the hardest working guys in the peloton - no make that "the" hardest working guy. When the going gets tough the tough get going," O'Grady said.

As for Cadel Evans, he looked very comfortable in the bunch and his next big challenge will come on Tuesday up the challenging slopes of Alpe d'Huez. The exotic dreams of a first Australian victory are very much alive and they will be answered to some degree on that mountain. Of course there are two more monstrous mountain days and the all important time trial as well.

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