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Cycling News Extra for July 17, 2006

Edited by Jeff Jones & Shane Stokes

Italy and Belgium still waiting

By Shane Stokes

After 14 stages of the Tour de France, traditional cycling strongholds Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands are still waiting to register their first stage win of this year’s Tour.

Australia have taken three, courtesy of Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto), as have France via the efforts of Jimmy Casper (Cofidis), Sylvain Calzati (AG2R Prévoyance) and Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues Telecom). Two sprint wins by Oscar Freire (Rabobank) plus the successful break by Juan Miguel Mercado (Agritubel) mean that Spain also has a hat-trick.

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Next in line is Germany, thanks to the successes of Mathias Kessler (T-Mobile) and Jens Voigt (Team CSC), and the Ukraine, with Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) and Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery), while Russia and Norway and have one apiece thanks to Denis Menchov and Thor Hushovd.

World champion Tom Boonen was fully expected to add to his 17 wins this season in the Tour but for now he has had to make do with two seconds, a third place plus the not inconsiderable consolation of four days in the yellow jersey. Belgian rivals Davitamon-Lotto are also still waiting for a home success but McEwen’s victories will have made the sponsors very happy anyway, even if he is from the other side of the equator.

The US is another country waiting for a win. George Hincapie, Floyd Landis and Levi Leipheimer have all been second on stages, as have Italians Daniele Bennati and Salvatore Commesso.

France will be particularly pleased with its Tour haul, considering those three stage wins and also successes for teams such as Credit Agricole and Agritubel via Thor Hushovd and Jean Miguel Mercado. In addition to this, AG2R has also held the yellow jersey as well as the mountains and team classifications.

Six stages remain in this year’s Tour. Three of these are tough mountain legs, while there are also two regular road stages and a time trial.

Boogerd picks up more spotty points

By Brecht Decaluwe in Gap

Michael Boogerd (Rabobank)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Michael Boogerd of the Rabobank team was quite often in the picture today. "The stage was very hard again, but I managed to be in the first escape. I could take points for the climbers classification and we forced Phonak to work, so that was alright." The Dutch champion was there as well on the last climb, where he was communicating with team-mate Rasmussen: "Yeah, we heard that Menchov had crashed, so we hesitated."

Toward the top of the hill, the Dutchman with the huge smile kicked clear. "I wanted to get the points," he said. Michael Boogerd is getting closer on De La Fuente in the climbers classification. Is the jersey a new objective for the coming days? "We just try to take as many points as possible. It doesn't matter too much, we'll see where we end up … Menchov is our first priority!" Boogerd made clear that he isn't considering the polka dotted jersey above the team interests.

Neither green nor polka dotted jerseys the goals for Rabobank

By Brecht Decaluwe in Gap

Mickael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Boogerd and Rasmussen are the two strong lieutenants of Menchov in the mountains. At the same time, they also appear to have the same personal goal: the polka dotted jersey. We asked the coach of the Rabobank team, Erik Breukink, what he thought about Boogerd's efforts on the climbs today.

"It appears as it isn't costing him much energy. Nobody seems to be sprinting for those points. I'm really not worried about the polka dotted jersey, as there is only one goal and that is Menchov."

We could reassure Breukink that Boogerd said the same thing: "I hope they keep saying that, otherwise they are making a mess of the team tactics. They can keep taking points as long as they don't need to do much effort for it." We also asked the Rabobank coach about Oscar Freire's performance. He was expected to take a lot of points back for the green jersey today, certainly because the Spanish sprinter climbed very well during the previous stages. Sadly though, Freire couldn't remain in front, so the green jersey looks far away for him.

"As long as McEwen remains in the race, the green jersey is almost impossible," conceded Breukink. "If McEwen would pull out of the race, then everything is close together behind him." Voices in the press room are guessing that Freire probably will pull out of the race tomorrow. He is thought to be unhappy that he wasn't allowed to chase Popovych during the stage towards Montélimar. Of course, these are rumours, but we asked Erik Breukink what he thought about it.

"He's working for the team by carrying water bottles," he answered. "He also tried to remain in the first bunch, but it was very hard and hot today. At one point most of the sprinters had to let the bunch go, and it was the same for him."

Three times lucky for Aerts?

By Brecht Decaluwe in Gap

Mario Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Mario Aerts was in the decisive escape for the second time during this Tour de France. Sadly enough, his second effort proved to be a second failure. "The first time (in Lorient, when Calzati won the stage), I thought that the peloton would catch us easily. Today I'm again unlucky that Quickstep started to work in the peloton."

There has always been some kind of rivalry between the two Belgian teams. They probably weren't chasing for the reason that there was a Davitamon rider in the break, but why did he think they led the pursuit? "I think that it was a strange decision of them," he answered. "Why do they try to bridge a gap of five minutes with only one team? You're wrecking your own team, with little chance on success as there was that climb in the final," Aerts said, disappointedly.

We then asked the Davitamon rider if he was feeling sad now that his second attempt proved to be unsuccessful: "You know that if you're riding in the Tour de France, the chance of success is very little," he answered. "During the last fifty kilometres I thought that it would be over for us. But after the fall of the three others, surprisingly I found that we could hold on quite well. Arriving at the last climb, my tank was empty and I had to let go of the others. Maybe that was because I've worked very hard to make a success of our escape. The peloton didn't allow us more than a minute for a long time." But hopefully for Aerts, he can find success in a third escape.

Croaky Horner getting better

By Brecht Decaluwe in Gap

Chris Horner, the American rider in the Davitamon team had a couple of hard days. At the finish line we asked him how he got through the stage. The American commented with a croaky voice: "I'm a little better, but I still have bad moments. Today there were two hours where I felt almost normal, that's already a huge improvement on the other three days."

Evans and Rogers look good in Gap

By John Trevorrow in Gap

Sunday turned out to be a very tough day in the office for the 156 cyclists left in the Tour de France.

The breakaway held sway again, but only just. But a promising sign for Australian fans was the way Cadel Evans moved to the front when the going got really tough in the final five kilometres, finishing an impressive tenth.

"It was a real tough Tour stage out there today," Evans said. "When things started hotting up towards the end, I felt quite good and I thought I might have chance for a stage win. It was not to be, but it was an interesting stage nonetheless. I will enjoy the rest day and then the action begins."

Michael Rogers also looked well in control and finished in 25th spot. A very ill Stuart O'Grady nearly didn't start the stage, though, and it was only his dogged determination that got him through. "It was a terrible day for me. I was vomiting before the start and then during the early part of the stage. I was very close to having to stop," O'Grady said. "That was one of my worst days on a bike - in the top two, actually."

Simon Gerrans was also under a bit of pressure. "It was a real hard day – it was a shit day actually. I am looking forward to the rest day."

Rogers reacts to T-Mobile criticism

Mick Rogers is currently lying 8th overall in the race, 4'51 off the race lead of Oscar Pereiro. There has been criticism of the T Mobile tactics used the other day in the Pyrenees – what is his take on that?

"Well, we tried to take responsibility for the race a bit. Maybe, looking back, we should have gone a bit later, you know," he answered. "If we hadn't done what we did, I think everyone would have been happy just to roll along and keep the tempo. Hey, we tried, we made the race. Maybe we shot ourselves in the foot a bit doing it that early, but we had to try."

"At the stage of the race we were feeling pretty good and we have still got a few lives left. But it was a bloody hard stage and there was a bit of class out in front of me. I still think it's wide open. I mean there are a couple of options. I could ride defensively for a top 10 or give it a go. There's a big step up to the top 5."

Pre-stage 14 quotes

David Millar (Saunier Duval)

Saunier Duval rider David Millar is two weeks into the Tour, and gave some feedback as to how it has been going. "I am just pleased to be here," he stated. "I'm a bit tired after yesterday. It's the hardest race in the world. I happy just to be there and not getting my head kicked into much. It's all a bit new to me at the moment. It's actually a bit of a strange one, not having that Armstrong effect. I think it's a pretty good race, though, bit like the old school."

When asked what his hopes were for the final week, Millar has some set goals. "I would like to get in a couple of breaks. Try to see it out. Get through the Alps and then hopefully do a bit better in the time trial," he said. "There's still more for me with the Tour of Spain and everything. This is the hardest training country in the world."

Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto)

Prior to the start, Evans was asked what he was expecting from the stage. "I think it's going to be pretty hard," he answered. "There are a lot of people here who haven't won a stage yet. There will be plenty trying to get into breaks and get a stage win. Yeah, it's going to be solid. I just want to keep out of trouble, that's the number one thing. Then we'll see what happens at the end of the day."

"I am trying to get through and survive - the same as yesterday, I think. Someone could go away and take 15 or 20 minutes."

It was then suggested to him that it has been a bit of a different Tour this year. He agreed: "Yeah, the last seven years has been all Discovery. There has been a fair difference."

Simon Gerrans (AG2R)

Q: What do you reckon for today?

A: Well, what do you reckon?

Q: A break will go and Simon Gerrans will be in it.

A: Well…I agree a break will go, but I'm not too sure I'll be in it, though.

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto)

Points leader Robbie McEwen was asked what he expected from Sunday's stage. "I reckon another break, at least I hope so," he answered. "It will be a hard day today. There may not be any big mountains but there is no flat, it's up and down all day."

Boonen to skip Vuelta

Tom Boonen (Quickstep)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

World champion Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) will not take part in the Vuelta a España, his team confirmed. Instead, he will ride in the Eneco Tour between August 16-23 and the Tour of Britain between August 29 and September 3. Team director Wilfried Peeters explained that Boonen's decision to ride the Vuelta last year was because he had pulled out of the Tour de France prematurely due to a crash. "This time it's different," said Peeters. "Tom has already had a hard season and normally he should ride through to Paris this time. After England [Tour of Britain] we are considering races like the GP Van Steenbergen (September 6), Paris-Brussels (September 9) to work towards the world championships in Salzburg."

Freire has a son

Oscar Freire became a father on Sunday to a baby boy named Marcos. Freire's wife gave birth in a Swiss hospital today, and both she and the boy are doing well.

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