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Cycling News Extra for July 20, 2006

Edited by Jeff Jones and Shane Stokes

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José Miguel Echavarri: Pereiro won the jackpot

By Brecht Decaluwé in La Toussuire

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

An all-smiling José Miguel Echavarri Garcia, manager of the Caisse d'Epargne - Illes Balears team, was standing at the finish line in La Toussuire. We asked him how he experienced today's stage and asked him as well about Pereiro's chances for the overall win.

Q: Did you expect that Landis would have such a bad day?

A: No, we didn't expect it. On the other hand, we did expect that Pereiro would do well.

Q: Will Pereiro be able to keep the jersey until Paris this time?

A: We'll try, but it wont be easy.

Q: The time that Phonak allowed him to take prove to be costly now. What do you think about that?

A: Pereiro was lucky but he forced the luck to his side by being in that breakaway group.

Q: Last week Pereiro was almost 30 minutes away in the GC. Today, it looks as he might win the Tour de France. That would be a major surprise, don't you think?

A: Yes, of course but that just the way it works this year. We lack teams, we lack patrons … they give opportunities to everybody. He bought a lottery ticket and won the jackpot.

Q: It will be a some kind of miracle if it turns out that Oscar Pereiro Sio will win the Tour de France

A: IF he wins it ...

Attacking is the only solution for Sastre

By Jean-François Quénet in La Toussuire

Carlos Sastre (CSC)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

After crossing the line in second position, Carlos Sastre summed it up this way: "The Tour is super crazy." And this is not the kind of cycling he's been used to since he joined CSC, coming from ONCE, four years ago. Everything was planned in the Danish outfit. After Lance Armstrong's retirement, Bjarne Riis set the goal of winning no less than the three Grand Tours this year. It's still possible with Sastre lying in second place on GC with only two crucial stages to go.

Sastre himself asked to ride the Giro only to help Ivan Basso in the mountains, although he was initially scheduled as the team captain for the Vuelta. In the past few days, he probably thought of riding the end of the Tour de France for the overall win but he never made it public. And even now, he still doesn't.

"I can only take it day by day," he commented. "Attacking is the only thing I have to do. It was only in the final climb that I realised that [Floyd] Landis wasn't well. That's why I attacked. I gave it my all. It's necessary to attack at the right moment. Tomorrow is another important day."

Riis confirmed, "It'll be another hard day. Today we're very happy with Carlos' nice stage. He can win the Tour but the favourite is Andreas Klöden." Yet there is Oscar Pereiro to catch first. Now Phonak might not be the only team to regret the scenario of stage 13 to Montélimar. On the eve of Pereiro's first rendezvous with the yellow jersey, taking over from Landis, CSC's assistant directeur sportif Alain Gallopin declared on a French radio station: "If I was directing Phonak, I'd have done the same. But not everyone in our team would." Today, Riis gave his view: "I didn't agree with Phonak. I'd have never let Pereiro go thirty minutes ahead, but we had Jens Voigt in the front."

After losing Basso prior to the start, CSC went for stage wins and did well with Voigt and Fränk Schleck, but with Pereiro being the only man ahead of Sastre on GC now, there might be some regrets. It can't be different in a "super crazy" Tour de France.

Schleck: "We had to believe in Carlos"

By Brecht Decaluwé in La Toussuire

Schleck and Fothen
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Stage 15 winner Fränk Schleck worked hard for Carlos Sastre today. The Spanish rider might transform himself into a Tour winner: "I've always said that we had to believe in Carlos (Sastre) until the end."

With only one mountains stage to go, Sastre might find it difficult to make up 1'50 on Pereiro. Afterwards there is still a time trial to come, of course. "He's a very good time trialist. If he knows that he might take the yellow jersey, then he might get that extra push. I'm sure he can do it."

As for Landis' explosion, Schleck said, "That's just the Tour de France: you can win it all in one day, but you can lose it all in one day as well. Maybe he made some mistakes like not eating enough."

The team performance was again impressive, was that the plan before the race? "No, Carlos just looked at me and told me to make some speed. I did what I could but felt the efforts from yesterday."

The Tour de France is evolving in a very unpredictable race. Team CSC seems to have found back their fighting spirit, which was invisible in the first week. Fränk Schleck explains how that was possible: "Everybody knows that the first week was just a week for the sprinters. Today was dangerous and that's why we controlled. We didn't do much work in the beginning of the Tour, but that was all about tactics."

Axel Merckx: When you're empty, you're empty

By Brecht Decaluwé in La Toussuire

Axel Merckx (Phonak)
Photo ©: AFP
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Yesterday, Axel Merckx was hailed for his fantastic support towards Floyd Landis. Today, we had to ask the Belgian where the team was and what happened with his leader. "It could happen to anybody," he told us. "It's easy to attack the team now but we did what we had to do. We were supposed to bring him in a good position to the foot of the final climb, and we did. He's a great person and a great leader. We don't turn our backs on him because he had a bad day. It's sad, especially for him, because he wanted it so bad. But you can't forget that he already won Paris-Nice for us."

Landis arrived at the finish line together with Axel Merckx. Where did he catch up with the American? "Suddenly I saw that he was riding in front of me, next to the TV camera. I came next to him and tried to support him. That means being there, because you can't do much more … when you're empty, you're empty," concluded Merckx.

Marc Sergeant: Still surprises to come

By Brecht Decaluwé in La Toussuire

At the finish line we spoke with Marc Sergeant, manager of team Davitamon-Lotto. He was waiting for the bunch with green jersey Robbie McEwen to come in. They looked like they would arrive outside the time limit (but they made it), and meanwhile we discussed the new GC and how this Tour was unfolding. Today it seems that Evans can get back on the podium again.

"Yesterday we also thought that the podium was still possible but today everything is brought back together in front of the GC," Sergeant said. "Pereiro is growing in this Tour and looks to be fresh. We should be able to bring down Dessel in the ITT. But we'll have to wait after the stage of tomorrow because we haven't seen the last surprise in this Tour de France just yet. During the stage where he took yellow for the first time, he already proved that he was very strong. Getting into that break wasn't just luck because for more than an hour, riders were trying to get into a breakaway group."

This Tour de France seems to have a completely new look. There is no longer a hero that rises above all the others. "It isn't a surprise to me that all the riders enjoy bad days. In the past, guys like Armstrong, Ullrich and Basso never had a bad day. That was also why there was such a big margin with the rest of the GC-riders. People aren't used to the new names, but I'm pretty sure they will soon enough," Marc Sergeant concluded his vision on this Tour de France.

All for nothing for Leipheimer

By Hedwig Kröner in La Toussuire

Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

As he had announced in the morning, Gerolsteiner's Levi Leipheimer attacked out of a breakaway group halfway up the second climb of the day, the Col de la Croix de Fer, with 63 kilometres to go. Putting all the strength he had left into a brave solo move, he first caught Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux), then later Tadej Valjavec (Lampre), and continued on his own up the last climb. Only one rider was left in front: Michael Rasmussen, but the Dane's advantage was just too great.

"It just wasn't to be," said an-also disappointed Christian Henn (Gerolsteiner DS) at the finish. "With the way Rasmussen was riding, Levi just couldn't bridge up. Finally, his forces failed him, and the fight for the yellow jersey also made the race fast behind him. It's a pity, giving it all and ending up with nothing like that, but if you don't try, you'll never succeed."

In the finale, Leipheimer couldn't follow as Carlos Sastre caught him with six kilometres to go. he finished ninth, almost three and a half minutes down on the winner.

"No explanation" for Hincapie

By Hedwig Kröner in La Toussuire

One of Lance Armstrong's best domestiques, George Hincapie, had hoped to perform well during this year's Tour de France, the first he was to race without his charismatic leader. The time seemed right for the New Yorker to step out of shadow of the seven-times Tour de France winner, and he was even hailed as possible candidate for the overall classification within his Discovery Channel team.

However, the 2006 Tour de France turned out quite differently for Hincapie - losing precious minutes in the first time trial around Rennes after one week of racing, the 32 year-old was also unable to find his rhythm in the mountains. Speaking to Cyclingnews at the start of the second Alpine mountain stage in Bourg d'Oisans, the American was looking forward to arriving in Paris this Sunday.

"I just don't feel good," Hincapie said. "I'm healthy, but I just can't go right now. I'll be glad when the Tour's over. Sometimes you don't have an explanation. I trained alright; and I arrived in the Tour in great shape. There's not much else I could do."

Tour a survival test for Gerrans

By Hedwig Kröner in La Toussuire

AG2R's Simon Gerrans, who came back to racing after a messed-up season start due to injury, is hanging in there at the Tour de France. Supporting his teammates, who are experiencing a good Tour with one stage win and the yellow jersey too look back to, as well as good overall placings for Dessel and Moreau, Gerrans is bravely continuing the race despite various illnesses.

"I have plenty of health problems," said Gerrans in Bourg d'Oisans at the start of stage 16. "I just want to survive these mountain stages, and then I'll think about what I can still do at this Tour. I'll do my best to look after Cyril (Dessel), who's going really well - that's my job now."

Post-stage quotes

By Anthony Tan and Brecht Decaluwé in La Toussuire

Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank, 1st)

Q: What made you do what you did today?

A: Last night, we had long talks about what happened, and I told [Erik] Breukink that tomorrow I'm going to do it my way.

Q: It turned out pretty well...

A: Ya, I'm happy with the day (smiles).

Q: Was it tough?

A: Yeah, it was hard from the very beginning; we were definitely under pressure, they [the peloton] were not letting us go easily. So we had to work hard all day long and they were not giving presents away today, that's for sure.

Q: Can you tell us about the descent of the Col du Mollard - it was very difficult, no?

A: Yeah, it was a terrible descent. I did it a month ago, and of course, I still had thoughts of crashing in mind. I tried to take it easy and still ride fast... not easy at all (laughs).

Q: Now you have the stage, the polka-dot jersey - are you tough enough to defend it?

A: I'm not going to give it away, that's for sure! (smiles)

Carlos Sastre (Team CSC, 2nd at 1'41)

Q: When you made your attack on the final climb, did you realise Landis was suffering as much as he was?

A: Yeah, I saw he was going backwards... he was suffering, he was going bad. At that moment, I didn't think too much and I went full-gas. Because I had to try something in this Tour; it's been difficult for me [so far], so I had to try something, y'know.

Q: This was a make or break day. With tomorrow and the time trial coming up, you must feel like a real contender for the yellow now?

A: (nods) Today was important, and tomorrow is another really hard day. Now, it's important to recover for tomorrow and we'll see what happens.

Q: Carlos, you're 1’50 behind now - do you still have a chance of winning this Tour de France?

A: I don't know. Now it's important to recover... that's all.

Michael Rogers (T-Mobile, 12th at 3'42)

"I think we moved up a few positions up on the GC, so we did a good move. I was happy with my ride as I could do my work. I was still able to hang on … what was left at the end (laughs). It was torture. This was just the plan of the day. We want to finish on the podium, doesn't matter if that is first, second or third. I think we showed our power today and we're happy.

It seemed that Floyd Landis was all over the road? "I saw him at the bottom of the climb, he was struggling and I was still feeling alright. Andreas Klöden asked me to put the pressure on, so I did my job."

Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner, 17th at 8'37)

Q: How did you feel today?

A: The last eighteen kilometres were very, very hard. It's good I'm still here, still alive.

Q: Thoughts on tomorrow?

A: Tomorrow's still a hard stage in the Alps. I hope I can keep the jersey until Paris.

Q: Have you ever seen a day like today, with what happened to Landis?

A: Leipheimer had it in the time trial, Landis had it today. But it's hard for the yellow jersey to lose it like this.

Q: Were you surprised - did the peloton think he [Landis] was the Tour de France winner, or were there suspicions he might not be able to hold up?

A: Well, he looked very good the last days, today he looked very good. But I don't know what happened.

Adri Van Houwelingen (Rabobank DS)

"Yesterday it wasn't in our advantage that the race wasn't very hard. A big group arrived at the final climb and then it just exploded. Menchov immediately had to make up a few lengths and that caused him to overheat his engine. Today, Rasmussen was allowed to get a minute because he was far away in GC. In the end he almost took back all his time on Landis."

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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