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Tour de France Cycling News for July 29, 2007

Edited by Laura Weislo

Powerful time trial nearly knocks over classification

By Gregor Brown in Angoulême

Leipheimer failed to overtake Evans
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Levi Leipheimer achieved his first-ever stage win in the Tour de France by hammering his way over the mainly flat parcours of the 55.5-kilometres between Cognac and Angoulême. It was something that the 33 year-old had always dreamed of and a win that came in his tenth year as a professional. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown was in Angoulême to hear the American's reaction.

"I did not know during the warm up that I would be so good," explained a relaxed looking Leipheimer. Good was an understatement after he nailed his competition, sending the former fastest rider of the day, Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d'Epargne), packing with a time 1'56" better than the Russian. "Dirk [Demol] was giving me time checks from George Hincapie who had set the best time. I kept shifting down to the big gear; you feel it. It was a special day and I had the best day of my life."

Tensions built as the sun moved lower on the Charente horizon and Leipheimer pounded his way closer and closer to taking the race overall. No one had given the Discovery Channel rider much of a chance of stealing the maillot jaune, instead the pundits were focused on the battle between Contador and Evans. Yet after his performance on Saturday, Leipheimer moved to within 31 seconds of race leader Contador and eight seconds of Evans in the overall classification.

"I did not think I had a chance to win the Tour today, to be honest." The American's chances would have been even closer had he not received a ten second penalty earlier in the Tour - a gap now is keeping him from second overall. "Johan had asked the commissar about the penalty. I don't know if you can appeal or not. The commissar stood behind his decision and we have to accept that. If it were for the overall win it would have been more heartbreaking.

"We won this Tour [with Alberto Contador], barring any accident. I don't think I am going to pull off a massive sprint tomorrow, he [Cadel Evans] is a better sprinter than me anyway."

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The win gave Leipheimer that coveted Tour stage that he always dreamed of, adding to Discovery's previous stage win on Plateau de Beille and the imminent overall win with Contador. "I am extremely happy to win the stage; it has been a life long dream. It has been a life long dream to ride the Tour! To stand on the podium tomorrow I imagine that it will be fantastic. I will be very happy for Alberto tomorrow, too.

"I finished and I was watching in the camper, yelling at the TV until Alberto crossed the line. I was just as happy for his GC win as I was for my stage win today."

The team had a special guest to help it prepare for the stage. Seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong arrived and followed in the team car of Johan Bruyneel.

"Normally he is very calm and collected," said Leipheimer of the Texan who appeared nervous in Cognac. "He was watching us warm up and I think it brought back memories for him. Watching us prepare our gloves and clean our glasses. He was helping tape radios in ears and asking us if we needed anything. He was very much in the groove and it helped motivate us."

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Close call leaves Evans wondering what if?

By John Trevorrow in Angoulême

Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto)
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While most of the world focused on Levi Leipheimer's incredible ride in the stage 19 time trial, the Australian fans of Predictor-Lotto's Cadel Evans were staying up late to scream encouragement at their television sets as the Predictor-Lotto rider inched himself closer to taking over the maillot jaune from Alberto Contador whilst simultaneously losing precious time to Leipheimer. In a nail-biting final few minutes of the stage, Evans pulled himself inside-out to save his place ahead of the American, sprinting up the final few hundred metres to hold on to an eight second lead over Leipheimer with a time of 1:03:35.

The seconds felt like minutes as Contador approached the finish line - he had to finish in a time of more than 1:05:25 to hand over the yellow jersey to Evans. As Contador approached the final uphill metres, the clock still read 1:04 and seconds - and the hearts of an entire continent were broken when the Spaniard held on to finish in 1:05:02. Evans had missed taking home the yellow by just 23 seconds. Evans as understandably disappointed, but philosophical. "It's all happened now, not much I can do about it. When you get so close you really want to win," he lamented.

It's logical that he should look back on the last three weeks to see where he left those 23 seconds. "When Contador and Rasmussen were working together, I lost those times. Maybe that one acceleration on the Aubisque where I didn't follow Leipheimer... Or where I was waiting on Caisse d'Epargne and Astana chasing into Loudenvielle - that's where I lost 55 seconds to Contador and that's where the one or two percent extra that I could have done comes in."

Still, Evans rode brilliantly to hold on to second place overall, and he credits that with a good second half. "I had a really good start and in the middle section," Evans told Cyclingnews. "I had the feeling that Leipheimer was going to be good there and I said to the director this morning, watch Leipheimer there. And when I thought if he can go that fast in the middle, I hope I can make it up near the end and that's how it happened.

Evans got nothing but support after the finish, especially from his beautiful wife Chiara who was excited for him. "I am so happy for him," she said. "He rode so great and I am very proud of him."

Discovery Channel sees bright future for Contador

By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême

Contador and the lion
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After seven Tour de France victories for Lance Armstrong, the Discovery Channel team's Belgian managing duo of Johan Bruyneel and Dirk Demol are close to clinching another win in the world's biggest cycling event. The two Belgians were obviously delighted with the performance of their pupil Alberto Contador Velasco. "It was unexpected but fantastic," a delighted Demol said to Cyclingnews. Unexpected because the untouchable Dane Michael Rasmussen had to leave the Tour right after the last mountains stage after his 'whereabouts'-problems.

After having made peace with a second place behind Rasmussen, the team was suddenly offered the yellow jersey with only the ultimate 55km time trial to decide the result of the 94th Tour de France. "We could profit from the hard labour Rabobank put in and we were not happy with the situation," Demol explained his reservations about the situation. "After the Col d'Aubisque Alberto was with me in the car to work things out and we concluded that we should be happy if he could keep his second place as he already had his stage win and the white jersey." After the departure of Rasmussen it was clear that Contador would be very close to the overall victory, earning him a big bonus. "If he has a good manager it will be in his contract," Demol laughed, "but for me regrettably not."

The team of Johan Bruyneel is still in doubts over its future since it still lacks a main sponsor for 2008. Dirk Demol expressed he was confident there would be a solution for that problem. "We're riding strong all year long, only the Spring Classics were - due to circumstances - a bit less good although we still managed to claim a second place in Milano-Sanremo. We've won a lot all year long," Demol referred to wins in Paris-Nice, Vuelta a Castilla-Leon, Tour of Belgium, Tour of Austria, Tour de Georgia, Tour of California.

The Discovery Channel team has more GC-riders in their team with young guys like Tom Danielson, Janez Brajkovic and Stijn Devolder who will all hope to do well in the Vuelta d'España. The team seems to be the breeding ground of future champions and Cyclingnews asked Dirk Demol if there's still improvement possible for Alberto Contador.

"He's time trial should become a little better," Demol immediately found a point to work on, despite the fact that Contador had just finished fifth in the last long time trial of the Tour de France. "He can become even better since he's only 24 years old. He's already top-class in the climbs and of course there, there's not much improvement possible, but maybe his time trial. It was a little less in the last week and I think he must thank this fifth place to the yellow jersey. It must have given him wings because otherwise he wouldn't be able to finish fifth today."

There has been several a young Grand Tour winner who never went on to confirm those early results, with Jan Ullrich as most recent example of one who failed to live up to his prodigy - but Demol was confident this would not be the case with his young Spaniard. "We don't know how Ullrich was at younger age but we know Contador a little bit and we have confidence that it will not be a one-off winner," Demol assured Cyclingnews.

When talking about multiple wins in the Tour de France it's inevitable that the name of Lance Armstrong will arise, especially in the Discovery Channel camp. 'Big Tex' was in the team car behind Contador to support him during the time trial. "Lance is someone who keeps leaving his stamp on the team and all week long we knew he would come," Demol explained. "After the stage to Plateau de Beille he called almost every evening with Alberto and that gave him a lot of confidence." The 24 year-old Spaniard obviously need that confidence since he appeared to be a little nervous at the start on Friday. "He was most nervous when he heard that Rasmussen had to go home, he wondered how he had to handle the leadership. In the evening it was already better and our experience told us that these guys can perform under pressure."

Prudhomme ends doping rumours

By Gregor Brown in Cognac

Mauricio Soler
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The 2007 Tour de France was ripe with a new rumour starting Friday afternoon and running late into the evening that there could be another rider announced positive for a doping control. The rider was rumoured to be stage nine winner and mountains classification leader Mauricio Soler of Barloworld, however, Tour Director Christian Prudhomme clarified that there was no reported case of doping.

"We spoke with the commissionaire of the UCI and they said there was no case," Prudhomme said in a press conference Saturday morning in Cognac.

One Belgian website had reported that the Colombian had already tested positive, and Prudhomme was concerned about the speculation that took place the day before, and reminded the gathered press to base its work on facts. "Please be careful. Pay attention to the real facts."

The speculation was further fuelled by reports of police cars at the Barloworld hotel on Friday night. "Some journalist saw an Ag2r Prévoyance team car and thought it was a police car," confirmed Prudhomme. "There was not any police at the hotel."

Soler completed the stage 19 time trial in 42nd place.

Predictor-Lotto's mixed emotions

By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême

Cadel Evans went straight from an all out effort
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The Belgian Predictor-Lotto team didn't quite know how to react to the close-but-no-cigar finish of Cadel Evans after the stage 19 time trial. Despite watching Evans missing out on the yellow jersey by seconds, the team's manager Marc Sergeant realised he should be happy. "It's fantastic for our team. I said before the Tour start that the podium was possible and people had doubts but we did it," Sergeant said to Cyclingnews. There must be mixed feelings after watching one's rider come so close to glory. "Yes and no," Sergeant admitted, "If you're on the podium you should be happy. He took a lot of time back on Contador but on the other hand Leipheimer was coming up."

The Belgian was proud of the work the team did to support the Australian rider throughout the Tour. "We worked well on every level with the riders, staff and that in a Grand Tour. It's not easy to motivate the guys to work for someone else every day from start to finish." With Roberto Damiani, the team has attracted a directeur sportif that could help Evans with the specific training needed to hone his time trialing skills, and to attract riders who can support him on the last climb of a mountains stage.

Evans did wind up being isolated on the final climbs in this year's Tour. "We've seen [Chris] Horner hang on in the climbs but when he was dropped, the others had one other guy who could take over. However those guys tend to be very expensive," Sergeant smiled. That money should come from sponsor Marc Coucke but Sergeant warned that it was already a major effort from the sponsor to keep Evans in the team.

Evans was a relative bargain when he joined the Belgian team after his unsuccessful time with T-Mobile. "He had a confidence under zero and we brought him to become someone who was so relaxed during the Tour. That will strengthen him in the confidence that he can do it. But we have to be honest and realize his not getting younger," Sergeant said. Besides not getting younger Evans is also not getting cheaper Sergeant confirmed. "He has not become cheaper," Sergeant laughed. "You can't call him cheap and today he takes a very big bonus - but he deserves it if you can pull of something like that."

Marc Coucke, the Belgian sponsor from Evans' team happy to watch his team leader take one more step toward the podium in Paris, nevertheless he knew Evans was close to the overall win. "I'm very proud on our team. As a small Belgian team we stood tall and now we will curse while celebrate," Coucke said to Sporza. "In the Tour of Flanders we finished second by a couple of centimetres [Hoste behind Ballan -ed.] and now we're second in the Tour de France by a couple of seconds. This is great advertising for us and later this year we'll decide if we continue our sponsorship or not."

"Every second counts, an American wrote a book about that once," Coucke smiled. "It was very strong performance from Contador to pull off something like that at his age. Maybe if the course would've been harder and with a headwind then Evans would be closer although Leipheimer was coming close as well."

Coucke didn't have any problems admitting that Contador was the strongest and he felt the podium featured the three strongest riders. "The best three riders are on the podium and in the right order. Cadel showed his a potential Tour winner although he's probably at his strongest now," Coucke said to Cyclingnews. Contador had a good companion with Rasmussen in the mountains, but it's easy to say things like that afterwards and we will not hide us behind that," Coucke said.

The talkative sponsor said that Evans wasn't nervous for his time trial. "Cadel was very relaxed at the start, even signing autographs. He had to say to me that I shouldn't be too nervous," Coucke laughed. "Evans said that it would be good or excellent, well I can say it was very good."

Millar's concentration blown with disc wheel

By Gregor Brown in Angoulême

David Millar had terrible problems
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David Millar was targeting the 55.5-kilometre time trial on the penultimate day of the Tour de France as a prime opportunity for a stage win, but all his hopes were dashed within the first kilometres when his rear disc wheel gave way in a dramatic fashion. After two bike changes, Millar said his concentration was blown, and he finished well behind stage winner Levi Leipheimer in 87th place nearly eight minutes slower.

"The Mavic disc exploded in the first five hundred metres," Millar explained at the finish. "The rim just ripped off the carbon, twice. I did not give up and I headed for the first time check, saying 'if I was a minute or under then I would keep going.'" Instead, he was close to two minutes behind then leader Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d'Epargne).

"The first one literally exploded. I went another 300 metres and that one went as well. The car was right there, he had to take the wheel off of Iban's [Iban Mayo - ed.] bike and put into this one because he did not have time to change the first one.

Millar lamented his lost chances. "It was a perfect stage for me. It was a beautiful route." After the finish he seemed resigned, and explained, "I had time to ride off my aggression."

Overall, the Tour went well for the 30 year-old Scot even considering the constant doping scandals which hit the Astana, Cofidis and Rabobank squads. Despite feeling that his form was not at the right point when he started the Tour, he showed he was a valuable domestique for the mountain stages, and factored in the breakaways. Millar is now looking to the near future for his results. "In a few weeks I will be able to race at my best. I had a really good time even with all the crap all around [the Tour]. My personal race, has been good."

There have been mutterings about a possible riders' protest on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday, but even the vocally antidoping Millar wasn't sure if that was a good idea. "If there is enough support and we know what we are protesting about, but in my opinion that is not the solution.

"There are going to be tens of thousands of people on the Champs-Élysées wanting to watch us race up and down it, and it is up to us to race up and down it. It is up to the authorities, and us as riders [to fight doping], and we need to show some cohesion, but at the same time we have to race. If we stop all the people there won't understand why, because half of the riders won't understand what we would be protesting about."

"I think it is best if we get on with race."

Highs and lows for Luxembourg

By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême

Kim Kirchen (T-Mobile)
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Luxembourg had two GC riders in the peloton that started the Tour de France in London. Kim Kirchen eventually finished on an unexpectedly strong seventh place while pre-race dark horse Fränk Schleck had to settle with a result that was ten positions lower. Kirchen had to dig deep in the time trial to keep Discovery Channel's Yaroslav Popovych from overtaking his place in the overall. He started with the fifth time at the first intermediate point, where he had 5" on 'Popo', but then he lost about a minute on the Ukrainian.

Cyclingnews talked with a happy Kirchen at the finish, where he reflected on the past three weeks. "During the first part of the Tour I was feeling very good. I had a very bad day in the Pyrenees but I continued to give everything also today in the time trial, I had a great day. I think I clinched one of the greatest results in my career."

Kirchen is surely right as he pulled off the best-ever result for Luxembourg in 45 years. "I only knew it yesterday and it's good for Luxembourg. It's good for the future and hopefully this motivates the young guys who have to work and believe in themselves if they want results." His compatriot Fränk Schleck, by contrast, had a bad time trial. The CSC rider finished in 36th place more than five minutes behind winner Leipheimer.

For Schleck, finishing on 17th place in GC when he was 10th in 2006 isn't what you call an expected result. "You cannot win in one day - it is how it is - but I'll be back next year for sure," Schleck promised, "It will be with a different preparation, not so many races." Looking back over the pre-Tour period, he questioned his preparation. "When you look back I didn't finish one single stage race outside the top-10, so I might need to 'chill out' a little bit more," he admitted. Schleck finished 8th in Paris-Nice, 10th in the Critérium International, 8th in the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, 4th in the Bayern Rundfahrt and 7th in the Tour de Suisse.

Luckily for the CSC team they had two GC-riders and Carlos Sastre didn't disappoint with his fourth place. The Spaniard rode a good time trial but the podium was never in sight. "Of course we knew that it was going to be hard for Carlos to finish on the podium. Our team only wanted him to go as hard as possible. We're not disappointed at all. We just expected him to do as good as he can," Schleck pointed out that the team was happy with Sastre's performance in this Tour. The 27 year-old Schleck had only positive words for the young winner of the Tour de France. "He's just a great rider," Schleck said. "We've seen it in Paris-Nice. He chills out and he's back for the Tour. He'll be a big champion for the coming years for sure."

Horner would ride for it

By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême

Will they ride? Will they concede? Just seconds separate the top three riders heading in to the final stage into Paris, and after the finish of Saturday's time trial there was rampant speculation that we could see the overall contenders battling it out for time bonuses. One person foresaw the situation even before the first rider set out from Cognac: American Chris Horner seemed to be able to predict the results of the time trial. A day before the time trial he warned Cyclingnews that the GC-contenders might have race for it on Sunday in Paris.

"We're going into the last stage to Paris and we might be going full gas on the Champs Elysees," Horner said. "Now I've done that course twice and that course is more dangerous than anything I have ever witnessed in any race in my career I believe."

The forecast for Sunday predicts rain showers all day long, and could continue well until the peloton hits the paved cobbles of the Champs Elyses in Paris. "If we're doing that full gas - Lord help us when it's raining or something - it's going to be unbelievable," Horner feared a spectacle in Paris.

When asked if he felt the GC-contenders would race for it Horner didn't hesitate a moment. "Wouldn't you?" Horner asked, "I've never seen anyone not race for it if it's going to be that close. Thirty seconds is not do-able, twenty maybe is do-able but everything under that is definitely do-able." With a 23 second gap separating first and second overall, and eight back from second to third will the gentleman's agreement hold in to Paris?

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