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Cycling News Extra for July 19, 2006

Edited by Jeff Jones and Shane Stokes

Rookie Cunego will come back for to win

By Jean-François Quénet in L'Alpe d'Huez

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Damiano Cunego was extremely disappointed at the finishing line of L'Alpe d'Huez when he scored Lampre's fourth 2nd place in a stage of the 2006 Tour de France (Daniele Bennati, Alessandro Ballan and Salvatore Commesso did so before him). "Don't congratulate me," he said. "Only the win counts. Congratulate the winner. Fränk Schleck surprised me when he attacked. He was more explosive than me, I couldn't respond. Earlier on I also asked [Eddy] Mazzoleni to pace for me, but he was tired as well."

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A few minutes later, he had a different interpretation on things. "What I've done is more than positive. In a breakaway, you give everything to look for a little bit of glory. Yesterday I said that L'Alpe d'Huez was just a climb like the other ones. I also thought the same while I was climbing. But at the top, the emotion is different than anywhere else. My second place means a lot for the future. I'll come back to win that stage one day. I can improve a lot."

He noticed on the road to L'Alpe d'Huez that some tifosi had painted the road with some green and red colours on each side of the white parts. "They've done a great job transforming the middle of the road with our national colours and I've also seen so many Italian flags. I loved it," he added.

The world's number one rider of the 2004 season discovered the Tour quietly, but seems to have found the right condition along the way. "I felt more tired during the first ten days," he said. "I'll try to attack again tomorrow. Italian and French fans love the guys who go in breakaways rather than those who suck wheels all the time. I can allow myself to go for a crazy attack because I didn't come here for GC. I'll do it one day. I don't know which year, but I'll select my goals and choose to skip the Giro in order to ride only the Tour."

Dessel not targetting 'best Frenchman'

By Jean-François Quénet in L'Alpe d'Huez

Former yellow jersey Cyril Dessel is still third on GC after L'Alpe d'Huez. With more than four minutes lead over his nominal team captain Christophe Moreau and almost eight minutes over Sylvain Chavanel, the AG2R rider is likely to be the best Frenchman in Paris this year, a position that usually brings a lot of popularity and lucrative post-Tour crit contracts. "But being the best Frenchman doesn't mean much in my mind," he stated after the finish. "On the other hand, making the top 10 would be a fantastic result. We're not there yet. There is a 57-km time trial and I'm not a super specialist.

"What I'm doing is a nice surprise for myself and for French cycling. I'm living a kind of a dream. Today the crowd was pushing me with their encouragements." He reached L'Alpe d'Huez two minutes after Floyd Landis, although with an hint of frustration.

"I gave it all," he said. "I had very good legs in the Col de Lautaret. I put myself in a good position at the bottom of L'Alpe d'Huez but my chain came off. I had to stop. I lost 20 to 30 seconds and I had to overtake 70 riders on the climb. My teammate Mikel did an enormous job dragging me up there. It was such a violent effort, when we caught the yellow jersey group, [Oscar Pereiro's team-mate] David Arroyo accelerated because [Floyd] Landis' group was just ahead. I missed just a little bit of something to stay on the wheels. But I believe I can be happy with the way I climbed. It confirms what I did last week."

The Frenchman knows about tomorrow's stage. "We've done it at the Dauphiné and during a training camp as well. It's much harder than today's. I'll give it all again because it doesn't often happen to be in such a great shape in the mountains of the Tour de France."

Cadel Evans may well win the Tour de France...

...But it won't be this year

By John Trevorrow in Alpe d'Huez

Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Cadel Evans was gallant in defeat on L'Alpe d'Huez, but could not hold the wheel of American Floyd Landis and the rejuvenated Andreas Klöden when it really counted in the final kilometres of the most prestigious mountain in world cycling.

The scene was set for a battle for this year's Tour as the main peloton raced to the slopes of Alpe d'Huez. At one point Evans was with Landis and Klöden and the three looked set for a three-way battle up the mountain for the maillot jaune. But it was not to be. Evans gradually dropped back to finish in 16th place, one spot behind fellow Aussie Michael Rogers, but a dangerous one minute 39 seconds behind American Landis, who is back in yellow.

"Not good enough today. Not good enough. That's all there is to it. Yeah, I tried, but hey. Everything was at another level to the other day," a disappointed Evans said. "I just wasn't good enough. T-Mobile and Phonak really put the pressure on and I kept as close to them as I could. Klöden and Landis were very strong and I just hung in as long as I could."

When asked if he could still win the Tour, he replied. "I don't know the times yet but I don't think that I can win now. But I am not out of it for a podium...If the others keep going like this, there's not much that I can do. The level compared to the other day was higher, and I just wasn't good enough. Honestly, I think I can do better than that - C'est la vie."

Luxembourg's Frank Schleck was a deserved winner of the prestigious stage and rode clear of Italian Damiano Cunego, refusing to be closed down by the chasing Landis/Klöden group to win by 1'06. The pair was part of a group of 25 that fell apart on the final climb. Schleck was strongest and in the final two kilometres, actually increased his lead.

An Aussie fan cheers on
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Robbie McEwen, who crossed the line doing a wheelie, looks to have taken full control of the battle for the green jersey as his closest rival, the powerful Belgian Tom Boonen, had to withdraw with a severe chest infection. "Yeah, I promised someone a couple of weeks ago that I would do a wheelie on Alpe d'Huez so I had to keep my word. There were so many Aussies on the hill. There were flags and inflatable kangaroos and lot of supporters…it was great, it was really fun."

What does Tom Boonen's withdrawal mean? "Obviously it takes out the man who was sitting in second spot at 30 points and closest to me. That's the Tour for you. If you are a bit run down and feeling tired and you're not 100 percent mentally and physically then you're not going to make it. But one of the requirements to winning a green jersey is making it to Paris, and that's what I still have to do. Boonen is out of the race and that takes some pressure off. But I still have to stay concentrated and make it to Paris."

When asked if he expected a tougher challenge from Boonen, McEwen said that the Belgian had been riding well. "It has been a tough challenge. The last days he's been very aggressive. Although he hasn't been winning he's been consistent in the sprints and had a lot of points. But this year I was just better."

Finally, AG2R's Simon Gerrans said he was feeling under pressure today due to illness. "It was a long hard stage. Basically the break went from the start and the peloton didn't let them get too far so the pace was on. I got dagged a bit on the first climb, but got back on through the feed. I then got dagged again on the second climb and then just cruised in. That's if you can cruise up Alpe d'Huez.

"I suffered a bit with bronchitis so it's more bloody antibiotics. My body is getting a bit used to them by now. I guess after two weeks of racing, and being a bit short on preparation. I'm just a bit run down."

Horner happy to help out

By Hedwig Kröner in L'Alpe d'Huez

When Davitamon-Lotto's Chris Horner crossed the finish line in L'Alpe d'Huez today, he was quite satisfied with his ride up the mythical mountain. Granted - he was more than 11 minutes off the winner, Fränk Schleck, but he fulfilled the task his team directors had planned for him: protect the team's overall classification man, Cadel Evans.

"Finally, the form's coming back - it wasn't at a 100 percent but it was good enough to my job: help out Cadel and keep him out of trouble," a relaxed Horner was happy to explain. "Stay until the last climb until the car gets behind him; that's the best I can do! But on a climb like this, you just gotta make it yourself from there. I had a good ride, and then I just got up the road trying to save my legs for another day."

His Australian teammate Evans lost a little time today and slipped from fifth to seventh on general classification. Still, the Belgian team's mission is clear, and so is Horner's. "Today, I'm satisfied with my ride - of course, there's still a couple more days to come and then there's the green jersey to look after. But at this point in time, the way my form is, there are only two objectives in the team, and that's the green jersey and Cadel Evans. Anything else would be a waste of energy. That includes me - I'm just here to help the team, that's it," he added.

Young gun Fothen impressed on L'Alpe

By Hedwig Kröner in L'Alpe d'Huez

Marcus Fothen (Gerolsteiner)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Markus Fothen's eyes were sparkling when he came off the podium in France's famous ski station L'Alpe d'Huez. Once again, the Tour de France rookie had been awarded the white jersey of best young rider, and while he's gotten used to the same procedure every day, the German still was under the impression those 21 extraordinary slopes had given him.

"The spectators were great, running beside me and yelling my name... that was really cool!" the Gerolsteiner rider said. "It was a beautiful stage, except for when it started to rain - the legs were a bit cold then," he dryly commented. "Also on the descent, and then we hit Alpe d'Huez full gas. That's not everybody's cup of tea, nor mine, but it went well, and I'm satisfied with how I ended up."

The 23 year-old lost a little time on 'his' classification, but he had all the reason to cheer as his lead over second-placed Damiano Cunego (Lampre) is still almost seven minutes. "I lost a little bit of my advantage, but I think it will still be enough to be given the white jersey once last time in Paris," concluded Fothen, who is rated as a very promising Grand Tour contender in his native Germany, which is now desperately looking for new cycling stars to keep the sport popular.

Post-stage quotes

By Brecht Decaluwé in L'Alpe d'Huez

Axel Merckx (Phonak, 18th at 2'56)

Axel Merckx (Phonak)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

"Today we proved to have the best rider of the Tour de France. I was in the break but I dropped out of the group when they accelerated on Alpe d'Huez. I tried to recover and waited until Landis arrived next to me. Then I hope you saw someone who did all he could to help his leader. The pace was set as high as I could, to win as much time on the rivals as possible. During the Alps and the Pyrenees I could help him already once, I'm already very happy with that. I don't feel like I can do the same work tomorrow, but maybe I'll feel different after an evening with my wife and children."

John Lelangue (Phonak team manager)

"For six months, everybody was confident we could win the Tour de France with Floyd Landis. There are three things we need to take care of now: first of all, protect him and bring the jersey to Paris; second, extending the gaps to his rivals; third, if there's a possibility we should win a stage.

"Axel Merckx did a remarkable job to help Landis for so long during the final climb. He set a reasonable pace and could support Landis ideally. We, in the car, were keeping an eye on Menchov. When we saw that he was coming back, Merckx dropped out and Landis accelerated. Tomorrow there's another stage, where much can happen again. We will be happy if we can keep gaining time, bit by bit."

Marc Sergeant (Davitamon-Lotto team manager)

"From now on, Cadel Evans only needs to keep one rider within eyesight and that is Floyd Landis. The American is a level better than all the others. Today was supposed to be one of the easier stages out of the three mountains stages. So I'm not confident on what the future will bring. The gaps will be even bigger tomorrow, as they remained relatively small today. There are many thing influencing a possible win in the Tour de France, but most important is having strong legs. (laughs)"

Patrick Lefevere (Quick.Step team manager)

"It was clear that [Boonen] wasn't going well during the last days. Tonight he will give a press conference to explain how he feels. In the peloton there are twenty riders with problems."

The Tour de France of give-aways and competitions

Don't miss out at Tour time!

Resident freebies expert, Rufus Staffordshire, sniffs out some competitions where over $600,000 in prizes are on offer as manufacturers clamber for your eyeballs. Woof!

Scratch - but don't sniff
Photo ©: Trek
(Click for larger image)

The Tour de France is not only a reasonably popular bike race, ahem, it's also a great opportunity to win an incredible range of prizes and competitions on offer from manufacturers, publishers and distributors.

Many of our sponsors are offering Cyclingnews readers a schwag-fest of give-aways during the lap-around-France. The prizes on offer range from pedals and laptops through to trips to Paris for the 2007 TdF, as well as actual kit being ridden by top pros in the Tour - including top bikes from Trek, Blue, and Avanti.

So that you don't have to go hunting around the Internet for all these goodies, we've assembled the Cyclingnews complete guide to Tour freebies and competitions.

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