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Tour de France Cycling News, July 13, 2008

Edited by Sue George

Cavendish wins sprint while Kirchen keeps an eye on green and yellow

By Brecht Decaluwé in Toulouse

Number two for Cav
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Three days after his first stage win in the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish captured another bunch sprint win in Toulouse during the eighth stage of the Tour de France. Cavendish sprinted to a win with a comfortable lead over his rivals, and German team-mate Gerald Ciolek even managed to make it a glorious one-two for the Columbia team, which continues to hold the yellow jersey with Kim Kirchen.

Although Cavendish is winning the bunch sprints, it is Kirchen who is scoring the most points despite not being the pure sprinter. After the race, Cavendish talked about his own green ambitions and his desire to make it to Paris, and although Kirchen is enjoying his time in yellow, he is still is keeping an eye on the green jersey even after Oscar Freire (Caisse d'Epargne), who finished fourth in Toulouse, scored just enough points to take over the green jersey from him.

"I knew I would lose the jersey today, but I'm focused on the mountains now," said Kirchen. "If I have the opportunity to score points without risks then I'll certainly try. The green is still important."

While Cavendish will need all the strength he has to make it to the finish while beating time cuts during the upcoming mountains stages, Kirchen will be battling for the general classification.

"I wore the yellow jersey for three days in a row now and that's amazing," said Kirchen of his time in yellow. "It's unbelievable to ride in the peloton with the yellow jersey. It's every rider's dream to wear the yellow jersey. I waited for that for 10 years and now this dream comes true," Kirchen said.

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"The stage started very fast and there were a lot of hills," said Kirchen of his efforts on Saturday. "It wasn't easy to control the race for us. The breakaway was formed a bit late, but we controlled it well and in the sprint, we did another great job. I was feeling well and had no problems at all."

Cavendish's stage win moved him up in the points classification. The "Manx Express" is trailing leader Oscar Freire by 33 points and another win could bring him within reach of the green jersey. Although Cavendish said to Cyclingnews before the Tour that he wouldn't be battling for the green jersey, he might change his mind after his two stage wins. "It wasn't an objective when I came into the Tour, and it's still not a real goal," Cavendish said. "I don't think I'm physically capable of fighting for it for three weeks in a row, although I'm close. You've got to be consistent enough to be up there all the time."

Fighting is just what Cavendish did Saturday although in doing so, he managed to enjoy the last kilometer. "There was a really tight turn to the right [with 1.2 kilometres to go]. I lost the wheel from [team-mate Gerald] Ciolek, but didn't panic as I spotted him three positions ahead of me. I could move up, and when he accelerated, he did the perfect lead-out for me. Having Gerald in second position was beautiful and retaining the yellow jersey was beautiful too," Cavendish said.

The peloton will head for the Alps on Sunday for stages not so well suited to Cavendish, who said he will try to make it to Paris even with both the Alps and the Pyrenees still to come and his plans to compete in the Madison with Bradley Wiggins at the Olympic Games.

"I'm going to try as I haven't got the intention to stop. I said the same in the Giro d'Italia, and I kept my word and made it to Milano. It wouldn't be fair to my team-mates, my sponsors and the organizers. Every day I'll give everything I have and we'll see where I can get," Cavendish said.

Not fazed by the rain on stage eight, Cavendish was obviously happy to be out racing. "I worked in a bank when I was younger and I don't mind whether it's raining or whether it's too hot... as long as I can ride my bike I'm the luckiest man in the world."

Evans looking forward to next step

By Gregor Brown in Toulouse with assistance from John Trevorrow

Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) deep in thought
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Australian Cadel Evans, second overall in the Tour de France, is waiting for the high-mountains on Sunday and Monday to take the next step towards the maillot jaune. Despite stage eight from Figeac to Toulouse being one of the most treacherous days with undulating, winding, wet and slippery roads, Evans stayed out of trouble.

"One more step and another selection will be made amongst the GC contenders," 31 year-old Evans said Saturday morning in Figeac before stage eight. After, he added, "I certainly am glad to get that day out of the way. That was a gnarly finale and it was actually very treacherous in the final 10kms."

Team Silence-Lotto's Evans was the heavy favourite heading into the race. Second behind Kim Kirchen of Team Columbia, he is the highest placed of the overall race favourites. He is ahead of Denis Menchov (Rabobank) by 57" and of Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) by 1'06".

The Tour de France enters the high-mountains with a stage to Bagnères de Bigorre on Sunday and a mountaintop arrival to Hautacam the next day. The stages will provide space for the race contenders to sort out the overall classification.

"I look towards those stages with interest and a little bit of anxiety," Evans said. "I just hope it doesn't rain."

De la Fuente keeps KOM Jersey

David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval - Scott)
Photo ©: AFP
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Saunier Duval-Scott's David de la Fuente managed to keep his polka-dot jersey of the best climber in Saturday's rainy stage eight. De la Fuente was the first rider to the top of the initial climb of the day and finished second on the second one.

Both of those climbs came before the breakaway of the day including Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r), Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), and Laurent Lefèvre (Bouygues Telecom) which collected all the remaining mountains points for the day.

"I've met my goal of keeping the mountains jersey today," said de la Fuente. "The early race was tough, with so many attacks and all. I took off from behind in the first climb and rode past other riders to be the first to crown it.

"The same thing happened in the second climb, but Lefèvre had already broken clear. Tomorrow's different; there'll be two main mountain passes and the race will be long. It'll be an important day for the KOM classification, with two category-one climbs plus four other ascents," he said. "Of course, my goal will be being part of the breakaways, for there'll surely be one. My GC time isn't very good, and this could help me for a place ahead, but then everyone'll try to be in the breakaway."

De la Fuente had a much better day than his team-mate Riccardo Riccò, who went down with 50 kilometres to go. He hurt his right knee and hip, but he managed to regain the peloton with the help of his team-mates. According to his team, Riccò will be able to go on riding.

Rain doesn't dampen efforts of Cunego and Valverde

Cunego climbs on his machine
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Racers saw their share of wet weather in Saturday's stage eight, but two favorites, Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre) stayed out of trouble despite the conditions and are looking ahead to the high mountains.

Cunego and his team-mates pedalled into the finish just behind the front of the main bunch and avoiding two crashes.

"This is a strange Tour, almost every day it's raining," said Cunego said. "Forecasts say rain for tomorrow, too."

Nonetheless, Cunego will be giving it his best in the mountains. "I will try to understand if I've recovered the efforts of the last stages, and I will give my best in order to realize a good performance," he said.

Valverde was another favorite who finished the day with no incidents. "Fortunately, everything went well for us," said Valverde. "On the eve of the first stage in the Pyrenees, which will take place tomorrow with the Cols of Peyresourde and Aspin to climb, I am very happy with what I achieved 'til now."

Valverde cited the team's two stage wins, his and that of Luis León Sánchez the previous day. He was also happy with Oscar Pereiro's place in the overall GC.

"We will try not to lose time in the Pyrenees and arrive in the Alps in very good condition," said Valverde, "because I believe that they will decide who will be the final winner of the Grande Boucle."

Pineau looking for credit with a Tour win

By Jean-François Quénet in Toulouse

It was a wet day out there.
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom) was one of four men hoping for a stage win while in a long breakaway on stage eight. He was joined by team-mate Laurent Lefèvre, AG2R's Christophe Riblon and Euskaltel's Amets Txurruka.

Lefèvre, who hails from the north of France, but considered himself a local on the road to Toulouse after having relocated to the nearby city of Pibrac, wasn't so optimistic about the break's chances of staying away. "I knew there were long straight roads in the finale," he said referring to places where the four might be reeled in by the chasing peloton.

"Sometimes the rain favors breakaways, but with 40km to go, we only had less than a minute's advantage. We'd done what we could," said a disheartened Riblon, who is from Picardie. "Since the beginning of the Tour, I have looked for breakaways." Riblon said a crash had affected him on day one, but he was feeling fine now.

"So far we haven't had many of the guys from our team in the front because we have been preserving ourselves for the mountains," said Riblon of his team's strategy. "Personally I will not win a stage in the Pyrénées, so I had to try something before. I don't want to finish the Tour with regrets."

Pineau seemed to be the rider in the break with the most determination to make it succeed. He launched an attack with only 10km to go; it lasted until four kilometers to go.

Riblon looked exhausted at the end of stage eight. "I would have liked to follow the moves in the finale, but the rain and cold made my legs hard. I couldn't go with Pineau when he attacked."

Pineau said his initial move of counterattacking the break was "to protect Lefèvre who was away already." He lamented that fact that his breaks have not been successful as he was hoping for a stage victory. "When I'm away, the peloton always brings it back; it's not the case with some other riders, but with Jérôme, it does. I need a big win."

Although Pineau is the best Frenchman on GC, he said he's not proud of that position so far as it's only 29th. However, he indicated that he will continue to do what he can.

Liquigas' manager denies team's connection to Beltrán's positive

By Gregor Brown in Toulouse

Liquigas Manager Roberto Amadio denied any connection to Spaniard Manuel Beltrán the morning after his rider was expelled from the 95th Tour de France for testing his "A" sample positive for Erythropoietin.

"He knows how we work, and if there are any questions, we are there to answer them. We can prove that the team had noting to do with this case," Amadio said to press gathered at the team's bus on the morning of stage eight.

Amadio's rider had gone home to Spain earlier in the morning after an evening spent with the French Gendarmerie. Beltrán was forced to answer questions regarding the use of the drug Erythropoietin (EPO). The drug is believed to be less popular in the peloton now that detection methods are more advanced.

"If a rider does this he is crazy," Amadio said of EPO usage.

'Triki' Beltrán – currently suspended from Team Liquigas – will face fines if his "B" sample confirms the "A" sample. The team has a financial penalty clause in the rider's contract that will be enforced if the test taken by the French anti-doping agency (AFLD) result is verified.

"If you do something like that, the rider knows that he does not have a chance. ... There are still some guys who play Russian roulette."

Beltrán was informed of the news when a French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLP) representative delivered the test results to the Liquigas hotel on Friday evening. What followed was a show of force by the French police.

"The Gendarmerie has to do its job according to French law. It is their right to does so." The Gendarmerie led Beltrán out of the hotel to its station for questioning.

The Liquigas team is continuing in the 95th Tour de France, despite a tarnished image following Beltrán's positive. The Italian team will not withdraw its other racers - unlike Team Cofidis, which left the Tour de France in 2007 following the positive test of Cristian Moreni.

"We are going to try to win stages, like always," said Amadio. "We are here to ride the Tour and ride at our best. These are the things that can happen, we have to continue."

Former room-mate Willems races on despite Beltrán's result

By Brecht Decaluwé in Toulouse

Frederik Willems, a Belgian rider on the Italian Liquigas team, was disappointed at the news of fellow Liquigas racer Manuel Beltrán's initial positive test for EPO, but is awaiting the counter-analysis of Beltrán's "B" sample taken after the first stage of the Tour de France before drawing any conclusions.

"Last year I was sharing the room with Beltrán during the Tour de France," said Willems. "I've never noticed anything. In the race he was always very active and keen to race. Outside the race, he was a calm guy. He's a bit tight-lipped, but he would certainly speak out when there were team discussions," Willems said of "Triki" Beltrán. After being questioned by French police, the Spanish racer took a flight back to his home country Saturday morning.

Willems described what happened Friday evening when the police entered the team's hotel. "I was receiving a massage when suddenly the police were everywhere. They left us alone, and we didn't have any problems; clearly, they only came for Beltrán," Willems said. "Eventually he was taken away while we were having dinner, but this morning I ran into him in the corridor. He talked to me, but I didn't talk back.

"Beltrán told me that he would await the results of the analysis of the B-sample, and he assured me that the team had nothing to do with it. He also said that he would have regrets if he "B" sample test results ended up confirming his positive A-sample," Willems said.

"Nobody expected this [test result] because we have internal team controls and unannounced controls at home about every month. I don't think the Beltrán case has anything to do with the team, and I would be sorry if the team were attacked because Beltrán possibly did something wrong. I don't see a reason why we should go home," Willems said.

"We're here to do our best in the Tour de France," said Willems. "I had a cold during the first couple of days, and it's not easy - especially in the Tour de France - to get a good result, or do something extreme. Actually, I was happy to make it to the finish each day. Recently I started to feel a little better and then this happens. That's not really positive."

During stage eight on Saturday the Liquigas team tried to set up their sprinter Francesco Chicchi, but the Italian finished 15th. "It was good to be out racing, but, of course, you think about it. We tried to act in a positive way. We've got the morale to race, since that's what we're here for. Just because of the Beltrán case, we don't have to ride depressed."

Stapleton and Hincapie shocked but hopeful

By Brecht Decaluwé in Toulouse

Team Columbia general manager Bob Stapleton
Photo ©: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews
(Click for larger image)

Columbia team manager Bob Stapleton was shocked by the positive test of Manuel Beltrán on Friday evening, but optimistic about the future of the sport as cycling goes through the process of cleaning up.

"I think we need to be careful not be paint everybody with the same brush. I wouldn't want to see a bunch of other athletes - that have done nothing - get punished. So I think focusing on individual conduct is appropriate here," said Stapleton, who said the increased amount of test lowered the chances of riders' getting away with unacceptable behavior.

"There were about 3,000 tests this year. When you do more testing, you're going catch people. People are being caught, and that is part of the solution. It's painful and it's ugly, but the sport is definitely in transition," said Stapleton. "There's a lot of testing, and if people realize they will get caught and punished, then that has to change behaviour over time."

"We're stuck in the middle right now," he said before commenting on the psychology of the peloton. "We're trying to do all the right things, but there are still some kinds of behaviour that we have to eliminate. With more testing, the odds to being caught are getting higher. Everybody's just shocked. It's almost an addictive behaviour, and you have to view them as addicts, and probably they have to be treated like that as well."

George Hincapie, Columbia's American rider in the Tour de France, said he was surprised to hear that his former US Postal and Discovery Channel team-mate had delivered a positive A-sample for EPO.

"My first reaction was surprise," said Hincapie. "I'm shocked, like everybody. It's obviously really disappointing, but in the mean time it means that the tests are working. There's no room to cheat so at the same time you've got to look at the positive side, at the things that are getting better."

Stage video highlights and podcasts

Just can't get enough of the Tour? Well fear not because Cyclingnews has expanded its coverage once again this year to bring you video highlights of every stage plus daily podcasts courtesy of Bikeradar.com and Procycling magazine.

Our video comes directly from Tour de France owners Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), and will be online shortly after the finish of each stage. We've also got highlights from classic Tours of the past so click here to see the full archive.

Check out the podcasts page in our Tour de France section for a full round-up of news and views from the Tour.

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