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Tour de France Cycling News, July 14, 2008

Edited by Sue George

Riccò makes it look easy on Col d'Aspin

By Brecht Decaluwé in Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Ricc˛ went all out in the final kilometres
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

After a series of accelerations with five kilometres to go in stage nine on the first category climb Col d'Aspin, Saunier Duval's Riccardo Riccò managed to slide away from the peloton. Riccò, nicknamed the "Cobra from Formigine", was unstoppable and blasted past riders who had escaped earlier. He seemed to have little competition as he rode away to an eventual stage victory.

Maxime Monfort (Cofidis) tried to hang with Riccò for a while, but eventually Riccò rode solo towards the top of the Col d'Aspin. One kilometre before the top, he passed Sebastian Lang who had been on the attack all day long. At the top of the climb, Riccò had about two minutes on the first part of the peloton and held on to more than a minute of that advantage as he reached the finish line.

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The 24 year-old Riccò talked to the press in Bagnères-de-Bigorre about his decisive move, his next goals and the rumours following him at the Tour de France.

"I'm very happy, probably even more than after my first stage victory as this has been the first real mountain stage," said Riccò. "Everybody was looking at each other on the Aspin, and when I accelerated, I created a gap. The first part of the descent turned out to be rather technical and fast, so that was ok. Then it was a lot harder, and I had to use a lot of force to keep going; it was like a time trial."

Before the Tour de France, Riccò was considered a favourite, but for more than a week the Italian has downplayed his general classification ambitions. "Others have prepared for the Tour from the beginning of the year. Although I won today and the other day, I still don't want to think about the general classification. I'll continue to look at it day by day.

"Tomorrow might be a different scenario, and I hope that I can work hard in the front, to help team-mate [Leonardo] Piepoli toward a stage victory," said Riccò. "He did an excellent job today by leading the peloton on the Aspin and then he didn't care about his own chances. Actually, the plan today was to set him up for the victory, but my legs were so good that I attacked."

Ricc˛ celebrates his second win
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

When Riccò jumped away in an attack with a style like his hero Marco Pantani, the big guns didn't seem ready to fire their ammo just yet. Riccò appeared to have little competition from the pure climbers he encountered in the Giro d'Italia, and most of the climbers in the Tour de France still believe in their chances for the general classification and were saving energy for the uphill finish towards Hautacam on Monday.

"The others, like [Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro] Valverde, weren't too concerned when I attacked," Riccò said, but he also noted the competition in the Tour de France has been tougher than in the Giro d'Italia. "The only climber who's not here is Contador. All the strong climbers are here, like [Cadel] Evans, [Denis] Menchov, and also [Carlos] Sastre."

During the last few days, rumors about Riccò circulated through Tour de France's media circus. Some said Riccò was one of the five riders who had received a letter from the AFLD concerning irregular blood values. Riccò denied receiving such a letter and said after his second stage victory that he was disappointed with the rumours.

"If people make me angry, then this is what you get," said Riccò by way of explaining his blistering attack on the Col d'Aspin. "I'm not angry about the rumours, I'm just disappointed. I've had these blood values ever since I was a child," said Riccò, who has a naturally high hematocrit level of 51 although the highest allowed level is 50.

"The UCI knows my situation, and I have a certificate to prove it," said Riccò. "I'm following the UCI regulations and I hope that people can appreciate my performances as I've got a natural high hematocrit level."

No one has to tell Riccò that he has the racing style of his deceased Italian cycling hero, Marco Pantani. Riccò admires the Italian rider who won the Tour de France ten years ago. "When I crossed the line today, I thought about Pantani, because I want to be like him. As a 14 year-old kid, I saw Pantani win the Tour de France on TV. He's my idol and I still watch tapes of him. One day I hope to be like Pantani," said Riccò, who was surely not referring to "Il Pirata's" drug problem which played a role in his death in 2004.

Director sportifs analyze stage nine

By Brecht Decaluwé in Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Euskaltel took control today
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The big guns established a sort of cease fire during the first mountains stage, number nine, in the Pyrenees. They raced knowing that tougher times will follow on Monday in stage 10, which will scale the 2,115 metres high Col du Tourmalet and then finish at the Hautacam ski resort after almost 16 kilometres of climbing at an average gradient of 6.8 percent.

After analyzing the first mountain stage, Quick Step Director Sportif Dirk Demol predicted fireworks for Monday.

"The race stayed [in stage nine Sunday] - as was to be expected - closed," said Demol. "Euskaltel was very active early on in the race, but then they missed out in the breakaway of three riders. Euskaltel took responsibility so that they would be able to fight for the stage win, and too bad for them, it didn't work out, but you don't know that beforehand"

"It was good that at least Euskaltel started chasing. We're riding in the Pyrenees, and that's where that team is always trying its best. The team has a lot of fans here," Demol explained Euskaltel's hard-working tactics.

About fifty riders finished in the first peloton after winner Riccardo Riccò. "It was predictable that a big group would stay together," said Demol. "Tomorrow it will be all split up. I didn't expect that Riccò would keep his lead - even though he jumped away unbelievably fast - since the last ten kilometres were really tough.

"It's clear that the favourites were saving their energy. I expected more from teams like Euskaltel, CSC and possibly Caisse d'Epargne, who might have, for instance, sent a guy like José Ivan Gutierrez up the road," said Demol. "Clearly everybody fears tomorrow."

Kim Kirchen on a flat section
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Erik Breukink, Rabobank's Director Sportif, shared Demol's opinion. "You can't compare the combination Peyresourde and Aspin with the Tourmalet and Hautacam," said Breukink. "It's going to be a stage where you can make the difference if you're good. That final climb is so tough that gaps will be created."

According to Breukink, Sunday's winner Riccò was able to sneak away because he was behind on the GC by nearly four minutes. "Riccò had the advantage that the general classification riders didn't react because it was still a while to go, and because he's far away in the general classification," said Breukink, "then again, he didn't lose time in the descent which means he was very strong."

Team Columbia's Director Sportif Rolf Aldag didn't order his team to defend Kim Kirchen's yellow jersey in Sunday's stage. He said he didn't have the team to do so, especially as most teams were saving their energy for Monday's stage.

"Other teams defended our jersey today," said Aldag. "We didn't ride [for it] at all, and Euskaltel took over and kept the gap. [Sebastian] Lang did a good job and really deserved the stage win today; he was caught so close to the top of the Aspin.

"Several teams stepped in and we found the limits of our climbing capabilities today," said Aldag. "We had only two riders in a group of about forty riders. We can't set a pace with our team that guarantees that there are no attacks, nor can we get back to the favourites who do attack.

"Everybody got stuck with the attack from Riccò," said Aldag. "If a team wanted to win, they had to ride. Many favourites probably hoped that somebody would lose his nerves by attacking like crazy. Ideally that would been brought back at one kilometre from the finish, and the rider would be dead for tomorrow. It was a little bit of gambling, and I don't think the teams played all their cards today."

Evans survives crash

By John Trevorrow and Gregor Brown in Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Cadel Evans was bleeding
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) crossed the line at the end of stage nine of the Tour de France in Bagnes de Bigorre, dripping blood and with ripped apparel. His left shoulder hip and leg were obviously grazed, but the injuries did not appear too severe.

Evans crashed over the top of a Euskaltel rider about 105 km into the 224 km stage. "I don't know what happened," Evans said immediately after the finish. He is being treated by his team and is expected to continue racing Monday.

"Don't touch me on my left side," he yelled as the press scrum swarmed around for any snippet available. Evans was whisked straight into his personal minivan and gone before he could be interviewed. But before he left, he did pass his helmet to Australian journalist Rupert Guiness and said, "This is your interview."

The helmet explained a lot. It was badly damaged and had received a severe impact on the left side. The front left corner of the helmet was completely crushed and there was little doubt that without the helmet Cadel would be out of the race and maybe even this world.

Sports Director Roberto Damiani was quite relieved after the finish. "It was a very bad moment, but Cadel is a man of strong character so he will be ok. But what could have been a disaster, in the end was a good day."

Crashing was just what had worried Evans and his team in the earlier stages of the Tour. "This was the fear that we had in the first stages, and now we are in the mountains and it happens, it is unpredictable," said Evans' team manager, Marc Sergeant, to Cyclingnews following the stage finish.

"Apparently he touched the wheel of an Euskaltel rider," explained Sergeant. Evans' team-mate Christophe Brandt believed it was an object from a spectator. "He had some sort of bag in his front wheel and it blocked it," he said. "It was not a musette, but something from along the street."

Despite the crash, Evans finished with the group of favourites and maintains second overall, six seconds back on race leader Kim Kirchen and 38 seconds on Christian Vande Velde. However, the extent of his injuries may not be known until Monday.

"Tomorrow morning we will know for sure if it is something really serious or not. The doctor [Jan Mathieu] is already with him to the hotel. If he can survive tomorrow then he should be good." Tour de France doctor Gerard Porte, who treated him during the race, said he did not believe Evans had suffered any fractures.

Difficult day tells Valverde he's feeling well

Alejandro Valverde gave it all he could
Photo ©: Isabelle Duchesne
(Click for larger image)
Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde finished seventh at 1'17" off stage nine winner Riccardo Ricc˛ (Saunier Duval - Scott). He crossed the line in the same group as the other favorites.

"This first high mountain stage in the Pyrenees has been a very long, very fast and very difficult one," said Valverde, "but it has been a good day, not only for myself, but also for the whole team Caisse d'Epargne, which did a great job during the entire day.

"The stage gave me the opportunity to note that I am feeling good, and this is very important before the tomorrow's stage. It is supposed to be a very different day, and I imagine that the bunch will not be so tired when starting to climb the first hill. Let's hope that the weather will be as nice as today; otherwise the downhill of the Tourmalet could be more difficult than the climb."

Valverde offered his congratulations to Riccó for his accomplishment. "He attacked in the most difficult part of the climb, and nobody was able to follow him. We chased on the downhill and later on the flat, but only a few riders from Lampre and Rabobank cooperated and that was not enough. Now we will have a good rest to be in very good condition tomorrow so that we can come out of the Pyrenees in the best possible way."

Valverde was helped throughout the day, but especially while climbing Peyresourde and Aspin, by team-mate David Arroyo.

Sastre race ready for Hautacam

By Gregor Brown in Bagnères de Bigorre

Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank) relaxed
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)
Spaniard Carlos Sastre is ready to face the Tour de France's second of five mountaintop finishes, Hautacam, for his first time in his career on Monday in stage ten.

"It is a really hard stage. We will do high mountains like the Tourmalet and Hautacam, and those will make a difference," said Team CSC's Sastre to Cyclingnews 24 hours before the stage.

The 1520-metre Hautacam comes at the end of a 156-kilometre day, preceded by two category three climbs and the Col du Tourmalet. Hautacam featured as a stage finish three times in the past, most recently won by Javier Otxoa in 2000.

"I have never raced the Hautacam; I have only done it in training," Sastre said after stage nine. "It is a really hard mountain. The gradient stays the same all the way up – from eight to 10 percent – and you don't have any time to recover."

Sastre is currently tenth overall at 1'34" from race leader Kim Kirchen. CSC-Saxo Bank will use the Hautacam to take advantage of its rivals with its three captains: Sastre, and Brothers Fränk and Andy Schleck. "It is really hard one," said Sastre.

Barredo pushing on despite cold

By Gregor Brown in Bagnères de Bigorre

Spain's Carlos Barredo is not living up to his expectations in the 95th Tour de France due to a cold that has forced him to take antibiotics and "rest" days instead of helping Quick Step captain Stijn Devolder.

"To arrive," said the 27 year-old from Asturias, Spain, to Cyclingnews of his goal in the Pyrénées. Barredo, winner of a stage in this year's Paris-Nice, believes that the cold could have come as a result of the first stormy days of the Grand Départ in Brittany.

"I finished off with my, antibiotics yesterday [Saturday], but I was had no power in the stage. I could not follow the group when it was going 40 kilometres per hour on the flat."

Barredo felt better Sunday morning at the start of stage nine in Toulouse's Place du Capitole. He hoped that he could get through the two mountain stages of Bagnères de Bigorre and Hautacam and then help Devolder throughout the rest of the Tour de France.

"I will ride these two days at a relaxed pace and hope to feel better after the rest day. The team told me to take today and tomorrow calm, to arrive. If I use my force I will not arrive in Paris."

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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