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By Andrew Hood
A SECOND IS A MILE: Alejandro Valverde’s one-second grip on the yellow jersey might seem slim, but it should keep him in the maillot jaune going into Tuesday’s first time trial.
Because the Tour eliminated time bonuses in this year’s race, Valverde simply had to follow the wheels in Sunday’s rush to the line into Saint-Brieuc. Monday’s easier profile should assure another bunch sprint and another day in yellow for Valverde.
“That one second is really like a minute and it changes everything. If it was the same time, everyone would be sprinting like madmen to get position to take the jersey,” said sport director Christian Henn at Gerolsteiner. “The lack of a prologue made for a crazy stage Saturday because no one was there to control the stage. Now Caisse d’Epargne will control it, along with CSC, into the time trial.”
CSC, however, has said they haven’t even had to lift a finger so far in this Tour. CSC sport director Scott Sunderland said the elimination of the time bonuses has taken the edge out of the sprints.
“The stress from the time bonuses has changed a little and taken the sprinters out for the yellow jersey. Now it’s just about winning a stage and not so much for the yellow jersey,” Sunderland said. “Yesterday it was all about the yellow jersey. Now he’s got that one second. The chance of making a split on Valverde is pretty bloody hard. Like we have seen today, he was up there.”
Caisse d’Epargne rode on pride Sunday to shut down the dangerous four-man breakaway, simply because it wanted to honor its first day in the yellow jersey. Having that one-second head-start to a dozen rivals just made it easier for Valverde.
“That one second sure screws up ASO’s plan to spice up the race,” said Garmin-Chipotle’s David Millar. “That time difference just shuts down the race completely.”
CRASH DERBY: Robbie McEwen will be fending for himself this year in the sprints. With Silence-Lotto building its team around GC contender Cadel Evans, the three-time green-jersey winner will find it lonely in the sprints.
It was like a crash derby in Sunday’s finale, and although McEwen was able to steer clear of trouble, he was never in position to win and finished a distant 17th. Leif Hoste helped lead him out, but when everyone was falling around him, McEwen was happy to simply stay upright.
“Everyone has been nervous all day because of the wind and everyone wants to stay up front an there is that little climb. [Damiano] Cunego hit someone’s wheel, I think, or just pulled his foot and dropped himself right in front of me on that final climb. I had to go full on the brakes and I was already at my limit,” McEwen explained. “And then (as they were fifth or sixth) they (Stegmanns, Gilbert) crashed just in front of us again just outside the final kilometer, so again full on the brakes and I had to chuck it on the right and just got around it.”
Sunday’s stage was one of four that McEwen’s ID’d as sprint options. He’ll be also on the watch in stages 3, 5 and 8. He was foiled Sunday when riders were failing around him like dominoes.
“If you have to come to a complete standstill in the final three kilometers, you are stuffed,” he said. “I tried to come back as we came in for the final 400 meters and I passed about 35 guys, but the race was quite a way in front. I saw [Fabian] Cancellara in the distance go, but at that time I was just concentrating on myself, trying to get back up again, but it was too late to get back those positions. I could have done with it Hoste if that fall didn’t happen. But guys are trying to squeeze themselves into gaps that aren’t there, then they crash.”
CROWD MANAGEMENT: Greg LeMond can still draw a crowd. The three-time Tour winner made a surprise appearance at the village départ in Auray this morning and it was like following the Pied Piper. Fans, journalists and old acquaintances crowded in to shake hands, snap photos and get autographs from America’s first Tour winner. LeMond hasn’t lost any of his charisma or the love from the French fans. Fluent in French, LeMond jumped back and forth between French and English to answer questions. His favorite for victory? Cadel Evans. The next big American rider? Taylor Phinney. Read the full interview.
RIIS BACK: Another familiar face back at the Tour, but one perhaps less loved by at least some, is Bjarne Riis.
The CSC-Saxo Bank team manager was persona non grata at last year’s Tour after he made a startling public admission that he used the banned blood booster EPO to win the 1996 Tour. Following similar confessions from several of his ex-Telekom teammates, it was the first such public admission by a former Tour winner.
Even though UCI rules stated that Riis couldn’t officially be stripped of his victory because too much time had elapsed, Tour officials took the extraordinary step of erasing his name from Tour-printed historical guides to the race.
This year, Riis is back, both literally and figuratively. He’s returned as the public face of the team, riding daily in the team’s No.1 car.
“I am very happy to be here. Last year, everything was different and all of you know the reasons why,” Riis said during the team’s press conference Friday. “This year, I can transmit all my energy to my team. Things have changed in cycling and I hope we can have complete confidence in the winner of the 2008 Tour. There are no guarantees. I can only know that if he’s from my team, he’s clean.”
Riis remains a controversial figure. Some despise him as a confessed doper who has no place in cycling, while others laud him for his leadership abilities and commitment to try to clean up cycling. In 2006, he introduced ground-breaking internal, anti-doping controls at CSC-Saxo Bank following the devastating implications of star rider Ivan Basso in Operación Puerto.
As for the history books, he’s even back in the Tour’s official guide, llisted as the winner of the 1996 Tour, but with an asterisk next to his name. A postscript below the statistics reads: “On May 25, 2008, Bjarne Riis admitted he was doped in the 1996 Tour. At the moment of his confession, the facts were superseded by the rules.”
There are other historical adjustments made in the 2006 and ’07 Tours for various doping imbroglios that have skewed the final results.
While cycling’s statute of limitations allowed Riis to officially keep his ’96 Tour crown (with the asterisk), a note on the ’06 Tour reads: “Oscar Pereiro was declared the winner after the disqualification of Floyd Landis for an anti-doping control.”
In 2007, the book now reads: “Cadel Evans is declared winner of the 13th stage and Kim Kirchen of the 15th stage after the disqualification of Alexander Vinokourov for a positive anti-doping control.”
No wonder the Tour decided to do away with time bonuses this year. The implications of going back and rewriting history can have huge consequences down the line.