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By Andrew Hood
MILLAR TIME OVER David Millar officially gave up the chase for the yellow jersey after a give-all raid that ran out of air early in Thursday’s hilly course across Massif Central.
Despite struggling up Super-Besse in Wednesday’s stage, the Garmin-Chipotle captain was still dreaming of the yellow jersey in one last, final shot.
Milllar started the day fifth overall at 47 seconds arrears and worked into a promising five-man breakaway that also included German marauder Jens Voigt in the opening 50km.
“I went two or three times and tried to blow the race to pieces. We looked at the route last night and decided it was worth a try,” Millar said. “I figured one more go. There were some strong head winds. It almost worked in the end.”
A slow leak on his front tire torpedoed his chance of pulling clear with a breakaway in the opening 45km and he eventually rolled in 50th at 33 seconds back in a second group that was 27 seconds further behind the top GC riders. Millar slipped to seventh at 1:14 back.
“The idea today was to try to get the yellow jersey, but we can forget about that now,” Millar said. “I had a slow leak in a puncture at the worst possible moment. I can drop off now and float at the back.”
Garmin-Chipotle manager Jonathan Vaughters said the team attacked with a vengeance in the opening kilometers to try to break apart the peloton and put Millar into a move.
“It was all or nothing for David today,” Vaughters said. “We were setting up the race and being the aggressors. David was attacking like crazy today, trying to go away in every move on the stage. He had a puncture and that messed up the momentum. Today it was the two American teams (Garmin and Columbia) beating each other senseless, with another (CSC) clubbing each other.”
The team will now turn its focus on protecting Christian Vande Velde, who’s been the surprise of the first week of the Tour. Vande Velde is sitting fourth overall at 44 seconds back.
CSC FULL-BLOC Team CSC-Saxo Bank tried to blow apart the race Thursday by putting seven of its riders on the front. It was the perfect recipe for a CSC raid, with strong head and crosswinds, a hilly course and a race-weary peloton.
“It was our style of racing today. It was windy, it was hard, and I said, ‘Okay, guys, time to put the hammer down,’” said team manager Bjarne Riis. “We wanted to see who has good legs.”
The tactic worked and about 25 riders pulled clear, led by the CSC gang. Race leader Kim Kirch (Columbia) was safely tucked in the front group, but there were some nervous moments. Damiano Cunego (Lampre) crashed at 60km, but the gap never grew beyond 30 seconds and it came together before the first of two second category climbs.
There’s reportedly some bad blood between the Schleck brothers and Kirchen, something that Riis refused to comment on.
Aussie rider Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) admitted it was a tougher stage than expected, so much so that there was no rest for the weary.
“No one stopped to have a pee, and you wouldn’t dare to, either. That’s the way this Tour is,” Evans said. “I was in front of the split, fortunately, but CSC had all the numbers there to ride. For whatever reason it didn’t happen, some of the other teams didn’t want to cooperate or whatever. But good to be there, good to be in front otherwise it could have been Tour nearly over.”
GAS-INDUCING PRICES If you think gas prices are expensive in the United States now, you might consider Europe. A liter of unleaded gasoline along highway stations costs an eye-popping 1.63 euros, about $2.55 per liter at the going exchange rate of 1.57 dollars to the euro. Multiply that times 3.8 liters per gallon, and a gallon of gas cost $9.72. Teams are really feeling the brunt of the gas crunch. A Garmin-Chipotle official said it cost nearly $1000 to full up the team’s bus, something they have to do every two or three days, depending on the distances between stages. Add that up over a course of a season and that’s a nice salary or two for some riders.