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Tour de France Cycling News for July 20, 2007

Edited by Sue George and Laura Weislo

Robert Hunter: First stage win for South Africa

By Jean-François Quénet in Montpellier

Hunter shows the winning smile
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Never before has an South African cyclist won a stage in the Tour de France. In 2001, Robert Hunter became the first South African to start the biggest race in the world, but he had to wait for his sixth participation before claiming a stage win.

Hunter came close in 2001, when he finished third in stage 2. He was the fastest rider that day in a group on the road from Calais to Antwerp. His Lampre team at the time was the only squad with three riders in the lead group; however, his teammate Johan Verstrepen, perhaps overcome with a sense of nationalism on his home turf, forgot to chase down Belgian compatriot Marc Wauters.

Hunter has played different roles in the Tour de France over the years. Last year, he was a faithful domestique for Floyd Landis at Phonak. Low on morale after Phonak folded at the end of the year, he was keen to go race crits in the US, but instead he joined Barloworld, a team that born in Johannesburg, South Africa, like him.

Poor management at Barloworld had put the future of the first South African sponsored team in danger two years ago, but when respected Italian team manager Claudio Corti took over, the team's reputation and security grew. By the time Hunter came onboard, it was the perfect platform for re-launching his career.

"We only got our selection for the Tour de France one month before the start," said Hunter. "There's already more respect right now for Barloworld. We have won two stages, and we currently are second in the running for the green jersey and the polka dot jersey. There are not many ProTour teams who have done better than that. Barloworld will be one of the best teams in the world in the years to come."

To read the complete feature, click here.

Astana & Vino back on track

By Brecht Decaluwé in Montpellier

Alexander Vinokourov (Astana)
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What should have been a transitional stage, one for the break to succeed or the sprinters to come to the fore, turned into a fierce battle for the riders in the green and yellow jersey classifications thanks to the Astana team tactics on the day. As the riders headed northwest around the Mediterranean sea from Marseille to Montpellier, they were buffeted by strong cross winds, and the winds proved to be decisive when the Astana team surprised the peloton just after the feed zone in the Camargue with an eight man team time trial effort to split the bunch.

The move put overall classification contender Christophe Moreau (Ag2r) into a bad situation along with green jersey contenders Erik Zabel (Milram) and Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), who had to battle the winds for more than 70 kilometres, ultimately conceding more than three minutes at the line.

While the move would have been significant for Astana if more overall contenders had been caught out, moving up one step didn't seem worthy of that sort of an effort. Astana directeur sportif Mario Kummer told Cyclingnews why he decided to start the move. "First of all, I have to tell you that the initial decision came from the riders," Kummer pointed out. "Today was a very difficult day with the crosswinds, but nobody knew where the crosswinds were strong until our soigneurs said that the crosswinds after the feed zone were very strong. So I told the riders to be attentive and stay in the front over there but then 'Vino' made the decision to try something.

"He was [riding] much better than during the other days and he gave us the sign that he wanted to try something. We translated that to the other riders, and when they were together, they started the work," Kummer explained step-by-step how team Astana ended up pulling en masse up front.

It was an impressive move, but it came at the time when Moreau, who had crashed earlier on, was receiving attention from the race doctor, leading to some criticism of the team's tactics. "We didn't work because [Christophe] Moreau was behind, although we did expect that we could drop somebody. After a while we watched who was dropped and when we found out that he was dropped we continued," Kummer explained.

It took a while for Moreau to move back up, and at first, it didn't seem like his team was too concerned, but they ended up having to burn plenty of matches on what should have been a peaceful stage. Kummer didn't mind that some GC contenders, like Moreau and [Tadej] Valjavec, lost more than three minutes today, but he said that was a minor point.

"The most important thing in this situation today was that Vino got his morale back. We saw that he's back, but now we have again three strong riders for the GC," Kummer said. Kummer didn't hesitate to talk about the Kazakh's chances for the overall. "Our captain is still Vino but we will give Andreas [Klöden] a free role, with all the support from the team so he has every possibility for the GC. Yet, the man who decides within the team is still Vino."

Hincapie comments on Astana move

By Brecht Decaluwé in Montpellier

The American Champion George Hincapie
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US National champion George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) wasn't surprised by the Astana acceleration in the Camargue regional park during stage 11. Nevertheless, it was clear that it wasn't an easy day out there.

"It was very hard in the beginning. It was very hard for us. There was a breakaway with 20 guys, and we had to chase it down," Hincapie explained to Cyclingnews. "When the breakaway was finally gone, the crosswinds handed Astana the tool to make the peloton suffer."

"Everybody relaxed in the feed zone and then Astana did a very unexpected attack. I wouldn't guess that they accelerated because [Christophe] Moreau was back there. Vino was probably feeling better, and he's probably going to attack every day. We will see a lot more of that," the Hincapie predicted.

Discovery Channel joined the Astana fairly early on when the echelons were formed but a little later, the team dropped back. Hincapie explained, "It was so hard for us to stay in the front that we decided to put only one guy there.

Evans another day closer to the TT

By Gregor Brown and John Trevorrow in Montpellier

Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto)
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Cadel Evans is quietly perched in a position to steal the overall classification away from Michael Rasmussen when the Tour de France arrives in Albi on Saturday for the 54-kilometre time trial. The Aussie is quick against the clock and at only 2'41" back on the classification he could be wearing the Maillot Jaune for the start of stage 16 to the Col d'Aubisque.

Before the start of stage eleven, Evans was already looking ahead. "So far so good, my focus now is on trying to stay out of trouble and rest the legs as much as possible in the stages leading into the time trial [Saturday]," he told Cyclingnews. "Then on the day, I will give it everything and hope I have a good day."

"The number one GC guy for the time trial will be [Andreas] Klöden, and it will be interesting to see how [Iban] Mayo goes because every now and then he pulls out a good one, and [Alejandro] Valverde, of course, he's improved his time trialling. [Alberto] Contador, he's going really good and he might surprise a few as well."

When asked if Evans could pull back 2'35" on yellow jersey wearer Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Evans replied, "I have no idea, but if he time trials like he did on the way to Tignes, then no way."

He is not letting anything slow him down in this Tour, as he explained the team quickly swapped vehicles when its bus would not start on Thursday morning. "Our bus broke down this morning," said the 30 year-old to Cyclingnews as we stood under the shade trees in the city centre of Montpelier.

The team's bus repeatedly broke down last year and was the joke of many journalists as they passed its stalled ride on the highway heading to these stage starts. "I don't know how many minutes we lost with the bus this morning. We jumped straight in the car and came here. The bus did not even start, I think. We had a bit of bad luck when our bus broke down three times during the tour last year. Now, the new one broke down again this morning.

"I like the old one actually. But as the Americans say, I am a bit old school. I like things that work; I don't care if they are new or old. They call me 'retro' because I hate buying a new phone or because I have a 1966 Mustang, or stuff like that."

The coolness of the morning allowed Evans to reflect on the hot racing into Marseille the day before. "Yesterday was so hot and guys were getting nervous going over the last two category three [hills]. Otherwise, it was a really fast start. I think a few of the classification riders wanted to be at the front so everyone else has to be there as well. Chris [Horner] and Fred [Rodriguez] worked for me in those finial kilometres. But the whole day it was 'Sevi' [Wim Vansevenant] and Leif [Hoste]."

Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto)
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The transitional days are survival days and Evans knows that any little mishap can be a loss of time, which is what happened with Moreau when he lost over three minutes coming into Montpellier. "It will be hot and windy, it is another day at the Tour, anything can, and will happen," he forecasted. After the stage he continued, "On paper I thought it was possibly the easiest stage. In reality it was the most stressful. The whole day there were crosswinds. It was a little bit stressful and surprising."

After today's stage, Evans was concerned that teammate Fred Rodriguez might have been in the crash and generally fatigued by the stress of the day. "On paper that was one of the easiest stages but with the cross winds, well in reality it was possibly the most stressful and very difficult – crosswinds, splitting, crashes, I would have like a little less stressful day."

Noting the losses of Christophe Moreau (AG2r Prévoyance) for the day, Evans said, "[Tadej] Valjavec [Lampre Fondital] and Moreau were the only GC riders that were behind. It was a lot of work to do, but once there was a gap, the sprinters teams took over because [Erik] Zabel [T-Mobile] wasn't there either. That's where Barloworld and Quickstep took over, and in the case of Barloworld it certainly paid well for them.

Evans is taking his day-by-day approach for the 54-kilometre time trial that starts and ends in Albi. He stated he has not yet tested the parcours. "I don't know it. I have to wait and see it when we get there. I have no idea." He could slide in as the race leader and he does not care if this would end up surprising the foreign press, where he is largely not mentioned as a threat.

"I am well watched in the peloton, don't worry about that. What the press... whether they are talking about me or not I don't give a damn. I am not here to be famous."

No chasse-patate for Millar

By Brecht Decaluwé in Montpellier

David Millar checks out the hardware
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After spending nearly 14 kilometres chasing the late break on the day, and another 80 kilometres in it, Saunier Duval's David Millar had the disappointment of being caught by the first peloton which was busily trying to keep the second group at bay. Millar set out in pursuit of the break of Philippe Gilbert, Fabian Wegmann, Xavier Florencio, and Dmitriy Fofonov, and had a long, hard chase to get on terms.

"I didn't make the break, I had to come across," he said, disappointed by the ultimate outcome. "It took 90km before the break was gone, and I just missed it. I took more than 10km before I caught them, it was horrible," said Millar, who looked back on how he avoided a chasse-patate.

Despite enjoying a maximum lead of 7'30" on the peloton, the group of five leaders was caught thanks to the Astana manoeuvre while riding through the vast fields of the Camargue regional park. "It was a bit unlucky with those crosswinds as the peloton was going extremely fast, there was nothing we could do about that. We kept working though," Millar said to Cyclingnews.

The Scotsman had been troubled by a sun allergy during the previous stage, but he confirmed that he is getting better.

Stage 11 post-race quotes

By Brecht Decaluwé and John Trevorrow in Montpellier

Simon Gerrans (AG2r Prévoyance)

"One of the toughest days I've had on a bike ever. Along with [Christophe] Moreau, I bit the dust after 40km which put us up the creek without a paddle. Then when Astana threw down the gutter I missed the split, which wasn’t a huge problem until Moreau missed the split up the front and dropped back to my group, so then we rode to the finish so he didn't lose to much time. In whole a day I'd rather forget!"

Frederik Willems on his Liquigas team's tactics

The Liquigas team tried to put their fastest man Pippo Pozzato into position for the bunch sprint, but he couldn't finish despite the Italian team's earlier success in Autun. Belgian teammate Willems explained to Cyclingnews the team tactics for the stage. "[Robert] Hunter is obviously very quick, and he also had a lot of teammates in the group and he could put them in front. We decided that we would only work in the finale, but in the end we just missed out for the win. Maybe the finale had to be a little harder for us to succeed. Anyway, we tried but you can't be among the winners every time."

Team CSC's Brian Nygaard

In response to Cyclingnews' question about David Zabriske's travel plans after he finished outside the time cut, Nygaard said, "We are sorry to see him go. He'll be missed. He never really found his legs in this Tour and his left knee is troubling him. He helped the team a lot in the first week. He's travelling home as we speak."

French Tour legend Bernard Hinault

Hinault is always glad to give his personal view on the French riders in the Tour de France, and today he was asked if he felt that Christophe Moreau was out of contention for the overall win.

"I think there's only one option left for him and that is attacking like he did in the Dauphiné," Hinault advised his compatriot. The five-time Tour de France winner felt the Ag2r team could have avoided the incident. "I don't think Astana exploited his medical treatment. I think it took too long before he was brought back to the front by his team, and there weren't too many teammates around him. You need to be attentive because everybody thought nothing would happen but it a lot of things happened," the blaireau commented on the disastrous day of the French champion.

Schleck owes one to Arvesen

By Brecht Decaluwé in Montpellier

CSC's Fränk Schleck was one of the fortunate ones to have been in the front of the race when Astana decided to throw down the hammer on stage eleven. "There was a lot of wind," said Fränk Schleck of the determining factor on the day. Vinokourov's Astana team exploited that wind to their maximum advantage, which earned the team respect from the Luxembourger.

"Astana showed they are a big team even though they suffered some problems during the first days with Vino's crash. I have to say chapeau!" said Schleck. At the team bus, Schleck gave a big hug to teammate Kurt-Asle Arvesen, who he credited with taking care of him on a difficult day.

"Today Arvesen was much stronger than me when we were put on the side. I owe him a lot today," Schleck thanked the experienced Norwegian. "I think I have to pay him a couple of beers for what he had done for me. He was looking after me, he was crucial. What he did for me was amazing, even in the end he was pulling for me."

Just beyond the one kilometre mark, Schleck was caught up in a crash which occurred as the sprint-ready peloton hit a series of bends in the road. Prior to the crash, it looked like Schleck's team-mate Fabian Cancellara was trying to avoid the bunch sprint again when he attacked just before the race entered a tunnel. The move was promising, but the sprinters were hot to have another chance before the race enters the Pyrenees.

"They caught him, but I saw that everybody was waiting for him," Schleck described. "I went on his wheel and said, 'Fabian, stop, stop, go behind and try again later.' Then suddenly Julian [Dean] went too fast in the corner, and I went down with the other guy," Schleck explained to Cyclingnews.

Fortunately, Schleck didn't seem to be hurt too much although he wasn't sure. "I hope nothing's hurt; I was hit by a handlebar in my left thigh, but I hope it is going to be alright."

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