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90th Tour de France - July 5-27, 2003
Mission accomplished for Jakob Piil
Crafty Dane wins his first Tour stage
By Gabriella Ekström in Marseille
The moment where his pedal broke in Bourg-en-Bresse at the eighteenth stage of the Tour last year has played on Jakob Piil's mind ever since. "I have been thinking of that unfortunate moment a lot, because I was in a position where I could have won," Piil said after his podium celebrations in Marseille. "Luckily I didn't think much about it today. During today's stage I was only looking forward. I have been trying really hard during the last two years to win a stage in the Tour, so I'm very happy and pleased that it finally worked out. To win a Tour stage was one of the goals I had set up before the season."
Knowing the capacity of the Danish rider, it would be interesting to know what his other goals for the year are, but when asked, he looks away and mumbles his answer. "Eh, I don't know. Well, I've failed a few of them already, but now I have this one, and that is a big deal. There are still some late World Cups that I would like to have a go at though."
Piil has already been successful in at World Cup races, winning Paris-Tours ahead of Jacky Durand last year. "I will have to rank that win higher than my win today, but a Tour stage is almost as good as a World Cup. I'm very happy to have won here today."
Unlike yesterday, none of the riders in the early break were any danger to the yellow jersey, and they were allowed a huge gap by the peloton. After the last climb of the stage, the attacks from the front group started and Piil launched his attack in the outskirts of Marseille.
In the press tent, after the two straight kilometres of finishing avenue in Marseille, Piil was already being talked about as the likely winner. Although not one of the biggest names in the peloton, Piil has earned a certain amount of respect since he turned pro in '98, and is known to most as a cunning rider when in a breakaway.
Piil was caught by Fabio Sacchi and with 1500 metres to go, the Italian reached for Piil's hand. "I don't know exactly what he said," Piil explained. "I don't speak any Italian, but I assume he wanted to say that he appreciated the hard work we both had done to stay away until the finish. After that we had to concentrate on our own chances. My sport director had been talking a lot to me over the radio during the last part of the race, but with one kilometre to go I told him he could chill, because there would be no problems."
Having said that, Piil smiles a little, but makes no secret of the fact that he feels very confident in race situations like this one. "I know that I have a very good speed right when I start a sprint, and that is something I have carried with me since I used to be a track rider. I might not perform that well in a long sprint, but if a short sprint comes up, I will probably win, even if I'm in a group with good sprinters. The ideal set up for the finish today would have been if I could have kept Sacchi in front of me, but he slowed down dramatically and forced me to pass. After that I kept my eyes on him, and when he jumped with three hundred metres to go, I just stuck to his wheel with the intention to pass in the last hundred metres, and I'm so very happy to have done just that."