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Sorensen conquers La Toussuire

By Andrew Hood

Chris Anker Sorensen (Team CSC) wins the toughest stage in the 2008 Dauphiné Libéré.

Photo: AFP

Saturday’s monster, four-climb 233km stage to La Toussuire delivered Tour de France sparks and controversy as the battle for the Dauphiné Libéré reached a breaking point.

Overall leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) withstood attacks but ended up padding his lead by two seconds as Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) tried to attack his way into the leader’s jersey.

Dauphiné Libéré 2008 – Stage 6 – Valverde chases to keep the damage to a minimum.

Photo: Graham Watson

Levi Leipheimer (Astana) was back at his best after struggling up the Joux-Plane in Friday’s stage and tried to win the stage to revive his hopes, but Danish climbing ace Chris-Anker Sørensen (CSC) fended off the favorites after riding 180km in a breakaway to claim his first professional victory.

Sørensen, 23, attacked at the base of the 18.5km Cat. 1 La Toussuire climb to hold to win 1:02 ahead of Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues Telecom).

The real battle was coming lower down the road. Evans and Leipheimer had Valverde momentarily on the ropes with about 4km to go, but there wasn’t enough communal interests to drag it to the line.

Valverde clawed back in the final kilometer, catching Evans while Fedrigo attacked to take second place while Leipheimer stayed clear to take third at 1:10 back. Valverde came through fifth at 1:15 and Evans sixth at 1:17.

“I wish I had these legs yesterday. The climb isn’t hard enough, there was a lot of draft and it was really windy. You really had to wait,” Leipheimer told VeloNews at the summit. “Valverde is a smart rider. He can gauge his efforts and he was thinking about the last couple of kilometers. And he was able to come back. I just tried to gain some seconds, because you never know what can happen tomorrow.”

Dauphiné Libéré 2008 – Stage 6 – Sorensen off on his own.

Photo: Graham Watson

Sunday’s finale should be a doozy. Valverde will start 39 seconds ahead of Evans and 1:24 ahead of Leipheimer. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) remained fourth at 2:47 and Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi) climbed from ninth to fifth, now 3:19 in arrears.

But before the finale

Saturday’s 233km stage from Morzine to La Toussuire, the longest of this year’s Dauphiné, was no day at the beach, either. After two category-four and category-three climb to warm up the legs, the peloton tackled the beyond-category Croix-de-Fer (29.5km at 6 percent) at 180.5km before grinding up the Cat. 1 La Toussuire summit (18.5km at 6 percent), where Floyd Landis had his famous meltdown in the 2006 Tour de France.

An early break of 20 shrank to 14 with 50km to race: Patrice Halgand and Pierre Rolland (Crédit Agricole), Amaél Moinard and David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Vladimir Efimkin and Stephané Goubert (AG2R-La Mondiale), José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d’Epargne), Rémy Di Gregorio (Française des Jeux), José Luis Rubiera (Astana), Jurgen Van de Walle (Quick Step), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Juan José Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Chris Anker Sorensen (Team CSC). Mikel Astarloza bridged up later to give Euskaltel-Euskadi two riders in the escape.

Rolland, 10th overall at 4:24, had been best placed among the breakaways until Astarloza turned up, sitting eighth at 3:15. The bunch didn’t like the looks of him in the break and Caisse d’Epargne cranked up the chase, trimming the deficit from three minutes plus to a minute with 23km to go as the escapees raced toward the foot of La Toussuire.

Oroz was on the front of the break, drilling it for Astarloza, as behind Rabobank contributed a pair of riders to the chase, looking to set up lanky climber Robert Gesink.

Astarloza had a dig on the lower slopes of La Toussuire, to little effect. And then Sorensen shot away in Saint-Jean-en-Maurienne, quickly taking a lead of some 40 seconds over his erstwhile breakaway mates. Behind him, Astarloza settled into a rhythm, methodically shedding riders from the escape, as the shrinking peloton containing race leader Valverde, Evans and Levi Leipheimer swept up the discards, led by Rabobank’s Pieter Weening, with Geskink parked on his wheel.

With 12km to go Sorensen had 1:12 over the pursuit and nearly two minutes over the Valverde group. Behind, Weening peeled off, his job done for the day, and Michael Rogers (Team High Road) had a go, dogged by Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto). Manuel Beltran (Liquigas) was next to ramp it up, quickly marked by Leipheimer. Both moves came to naught, barring a further trimming of the chase, to a dozen or so riders.

Three kilometers further up the road, Sorensen had a lead of 90 seconds over the trio of Astarloza, José Vincente Garcia (Caisse d’Epargne) and Rémy Di Gregorio (Française des Jeux) and a further 30 seconds on the Valverde bunch. But the chase, led by Popvych, soon swept up and discarded that threesome and drove upward toward the ski station at La Toussuire.

‘I’m not the next Rasmussen’

Sørensen buried himself up the stepped, 18.5km climb to claim his first professional victory. When Evans attacked with 5km to go, the gap shrank to 1:10, but it hovered there over the next two kilometers, revealing Sørensen’s staying power.

“I was really suffering in the last few kilometers. There was wind and I was hearing that they were attacking from behind. I wasn’t sure I was going to win until the final 500 meters,” Sørensen said. “This is a dream come true. It’s the ‘queen stage,’ over the Croix-de-Fer, climbing alone to the victory, I’m a truly happy, happy man.”

The 23-year-old Dane is one of the most highly rated climbers of the new generation and lives just down the road from the Schleck brothers in Luxembourg.

Sixth in last year’s Tour of Germany and 19th in the Vuelta a España, he couldn’t quite live up to expectations in the Giro d’Italia this year, settling for 28th overall, but he’s hoping for big things in his future.

But he bristled when VeloNews asked him about his more-famous climbing compatriot.

“I hope not to be the new Michael Rasmussen. We can forget about Rasmussen hopefully,” Sørensen said. “Winning this stage will help me believe I can be good for the future. I’d like to be the next big Danish climber.”

Evans-Leipheimer lock horns

With Sørensen on his way to a stage win, Evans tried his hand at gaining time on his rivals. With about 5km to go, the Aussie suddenly shot out of a group of about a dozen favorites.

Dauphiné Libéré 2008 – Stage 6 – Evans launches an attack.

Photo: Graham Watson

Standing out of the pedals, the Aussie quickly opened up a 25-second gap to Valverde, who didn’t immediately react and decided to save his legs for the finale.

“I haven’t ridden longer than four hours since Liège, so I was worried how I would react at the longer distance of 230km,” Valverde said. “I decided to ride at my own pace and try to keep Evans in sight and save everything to go full blast in the final two kilometers.”

With 4km to go, Leipheimer surged ahead and bridged out to catch Evans with about 3km to go. Valverde tried to limit the damage, but Zubeldia, Smyd, Fedrigo and Gesink were not giving much help.

Dauphiné Libéré 2008 – Stage 6 – Gesink gives chase.

Photo: Graham Watson

Evans, who attacked Leipheimer to drop him on the Joux-Plane Friday to move into second place overall, was gesturing for his American rival to pull through, but Leipheimer wasn’t anxious to lend a helping hand to Evans without some sort of carrot.

On Friday, Leipheimer couldn’t hide his frustration when he spoke about Evans’ attacks on the Joux-Plane: “I don’t understand what Cadel was doing. People who win the Tour de France don’t race like that. He was just doing Alejandro’s job for him. Now he has second instead of third. You have to race to win and he wasn’t obviously doing that. I was clawing my way back at my own pace and I was close, but with about one kilometer from the summit, Cadel started to pull those guys. I just exploded a little bit.”

On Saturday, Leipheimer explained his tactics in the key moments of the race.

“(Evans) was attacking to win the race, so I’m not going to chase him. Valverde has the jersey, Cadel is in second, so there’s no reason for me to work. I waited for Valverde to work and then I jumped across,” Leipheimer explained. “Evans wanted me to help him gain time. I was hoping to catch Sørensen to win the stage, but with 2km to go, he could see he was too far ahead. I was already behind (Evans), so if he wants to win (the Dauphiné), he should just go. He’s going for the overall.”

Evans was exasperated at what he thought was a lack of cooperation from Leipheimer, yet seemed to overlook that he attacked a struggling Leipheimer on the Joux-Plane to cause the American to lose more than one minute in GC.

Dauphiné Libéré 2008 – Stage 6 – Leipheimer gained a few seconds on Saturday.

Photo: Graham Watson

“I was climbing good, just not good enough to win the stage,” said Evans, who remained second but forfeited two seconds to Valverde, now 39 seconds in the lead. “I don’t understand why some riders don’t race to win the race? Perhaps if we worked together, we could have made some time. I had nothing to lose, only to win.”

A relieved Valverde, meanwhile, was able to solidify his grip on the overall. Valverde raced twice up La Toussuire in 2006 and even finished second in the stage in the 2006 Dauphiné.

“I knew the climb from 2006. I didn’t want to change my rhythm when Evans attacked, so I was able to keep my tempo and catch him near the top, so I am very satisfied,” said Valverde.

Valverde now faces Sunday’s final stage before securing what could be the most important stage race victory of his prolific career.

“I know tomorrow they are going to attack me, but today was the most complicated stage. Today was long at 233km, tomorrow is 128km, so that’s a big difference. My team is strong, I’m feeling good,” he said. “Until the final kilometer and crossing the line, you can never say you’ve won, but today we made a very important step toward winning this Dauphiné.”

Up La Toussuire

The 2008 Dauphiné’s lone summit finish didn’t disappoint.

The 233km, five-climb “queen stage” was the longest and hardest of this year’s edition. After two category-four and category-three climb to warm up the legs, the peloton tackled the beyond-category Croix-de-Fer (29.5km at 6 percent) at 180.5km before ending up the Cat. 1 La Toussuire summit (18.5km at 6 percent).

La Toussuire is best remembered from the 2006 Tour, when Michael Rasmussen won in a dramatic solo victory and Floyd Landis lost his grip on the maillot jaune. Both riders have since fallen on harder times. The climb made its debut a month earlier in the 2006 Dauphiné, with Iban Mayo taking the win, Valverde finishing second in the stage and Leipheimer securing the overall.

Flash forward to 2008 and La Toussuire was back.

Sørensen attacked out of the breakaway in Saint-Jean-en-Maurienne in a risky long attack with still nearly 20km to race. Just as they hoped, the other breakaway riders didn’t immediately chase, allowing the lean Dane to open up a nice gap that he held all the way to the top.

“I heard that the main group was coming closer to our breakaway group and to be honest, I didn’t have the best legs, but I decided to attack and go at my own rhythm rather than try to react to the others attacking,” Sørensen said. “I found a good rhythm and just kept going.”

Peter Weening set the pace for the GC favorites as Rabobank was keen to set up Robert Gesink for the win. Riders were popping off the back of the peloton as the main pack hit the base of the La Toussuire climb.

Team CSC’s Carlos Sastre was one of the bigger names to lose contact early. The Spanish climber hasn’t given much away during this Dauphiné, but says he’s simply holding back his fire until the Tour de France.

“I’m riding tranquilo through the Dauphiné. I’m not in condition to go with the attacks, so I don’t want to blow up doing what I know is not possible. I’m here to get ready for the Tour,” said Sastre. “I’m not here to mark differences. There are still a few weeks before the Tour, so I am sure I will be ready by then.”

Weening’s steady pace slowly whittled the lead pack down to about 20 riders midway up the climb, with all the GC contenders still riding comfortably with teammates to protect their flanks.

With 12km to go, Sørensen’s lead grew to three pursuers but shrank to the leader’s group to 1:45 as Weening kept applying steady pressure.

Weening absolutely blew with about 11km to go and Michael Rogers (High Road) surged to the front with Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto) marking his wheel.

“Popo” took some strong turns as the GC group methodically picked off the remaining attacking riders, except Sørensen, who gamely fought on to open up a 2:01 lead with 7km to go.

From there, the favorites took over and it was snap-crackle-pop all the way to the top.

The 60th Dauphiné concludes Sunday with a potentially explosive 128km final stage that tackles two category-one climbs in quick succession – the Col du Granier (10km at 9 percent) at 77km and the Col du Cucheron (8km at 9 percent) at 95km – before the final climb of the race with the Cat. 2 Col de Porte (8km at 8 percent) at 108km. It’s a fast descent off snaking roads into Grenoble with a flat, slightly downhill final 2km finishing straight.

Dauphiné Libéré: stage 6
Top 10

1. Chris Anker Sörensen (Den), Team CSC, 233km in 6:15:53 (37.192 km/h
2. Pierrick Fedrigo (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 1:02
3. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Astana, at 1:10
4. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol), Lampre-Fondital, at 1:15
5. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, same time
6. Cadel Evans (Aus), Silence-Lotto, at 1:17
7. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
8. Robert Gesink (Ned), Rabobank, at 1:26
9. Matteo Carrara (I), Quick Step, at 2:11
10. Daniel Navarro (Sp), Astana, at 2:13

Overall (after 6 stages)
1. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, 24:14:58
2. Cadel Evans (Aus), Silence-Lotto, at 0:39
3. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Astana, at 1:24
4. Robert Gesink (Ned), Rabobank, at 2:47
5. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 3:19
6. Cyril Dessel (F), Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 4:01
7. Mikel Astarloza (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 4:25
8. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol), Lampre-Fondital, at 4:29
9. Maxime Monfort (B), Cofidis, at 4:45
10. Michael Rogers (Aus), Team High Road, at 5:33

Photo Gallery


1. Chris Anker Sørensen (Den), Team CSC, at 6:15:53 (37.2kph)
2. Pierrick Fédrigo (Fra), Bouygues Telecom, at 1:02
3. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Astana, at 1:10
4. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol), Lampre, at 1:15
5. Alejandro Valverde (Spa), Caisse d’Epargne, at 1:15
6. Cadel Evans (Aus), Silence-Lotto, at 1:17
7. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:17
8. Robert Gesink (Ned), Rabobank, at 1:26
9. Matteo Carrara (Ita), Quick Step, at 2:11
10. Daniel Navarro (Spa), Astana, at 2:13
11. Cyril Dessel (Fra), AG2R La Mondiale, at 2:13
12. Manuel Beltrán (Spa), Liquigas, at 2:13
13. Michael Rogers (Aus), High Road, at 2:13
14. Juan Manuel Gárate (Spa), Quick Step, at 2:25
15. Mikel Astarloza (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 2:25
16. Sandy Casar (Fra), Française des Jeux, at 2:48
17. Maxime Monfort (Bel), Cofidis, at 2:48
18. Rémi Pauriol (Fra), Crédit Agricole, at 2:48
19. Samuel Sánchez (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 2:48
20. Rémy Di Gregorio (Fra), Française des Jeux, at 3:37
21. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr), Silence-Lotto, at 4:49
22. Hubert Dupont (Fra), AG2R La Mondiale, at 5:35
23. Lars Bak (Den), Team CSC, at 7:08
24. Iñigo Cuesta (Spa), Team CSC, at 7:08
25. Carlos Sastre (Spa), Team CSC, at 7:08
26. David López García (Spa), Caisse d’Epargne, at 7:08
27. Rigoberto Uran (Col), Caisse d’Epargne, at 7:08
28. Thomas Voeckler (Fra), Bouygues Telecom, at 7:19
29. Iouri Trofimov (Rus), Bouygues Telecom, at 7:19
30. Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz), Crédit Agricole, at 7:28
31. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra), Crédit Agricole, at 7:28
32. Peter Velits (Svk), Team Milram, at 7:49
33. Vladimir Efimkin (Rus), AG2R La Mondiale, at 9:19
34. Matej Mugerli (Slo), Liquigas, at 11:16
35. Fabian Wegmann (Ger), Gerolsteiner, at 11:16
36. Michael Barry (Can), High Road, at 11:16
37. José Luis Arrieta (Spa), AG2R La Mondiale, at 11:16
38. David Moncoutié (Fra), Cofidis, at 11:16
39. George Hincapie (USA), High Road, at 11:16
40. Nicki Sørensen (Den), Team CSC, at 11:16
41. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa), Rabobank, at 11:16
42. Rubén Lobato (Spa), Saunier Duval-Scott, at 11:16
43. Cyrille Monnerais (Fra), Française des Jeux, at 11:16
44. Mario Aerts (Bel), Silence-Lotto, at 11:16
45. Amaël Moinard (Fra), Cofidis, at 11:16
46. Jurgen Van de Walle (Bel), Quick Step, at 13:48
47. Pieter Weening (Ned), Rabobank, at 13:48
48. José Luis Rubiera (Spa), Astana, at 13:48
49. Dario Cioni (Ita), Silence-Lotto, at 14:59
50. Daniele Righi (Ita), Lampre, at 14:59
51. Perrig Quemeneur (Fra), Bouygues Telecom, at 15:16
52. Pierre Rolland (Fra), Crédit Agricole, at 15:56
53. Koos Moerenhout (Ned), Rabobank, at 20:35
54. Christophe Brandt (Bel), Silence-Lotto, at 20:35
55. Simon Gerrans (Aus), Crédit Agricole, at 20:35
56. Grischa Niermann (Ger), Rabobank, at 20:35
57. Patrice Halgand (Fra), Crédit Agricole, at 20:35
58. Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus), Team CSC, at 20:35
59. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Crédit Agricole, at 20:35
60. Aleksandr Kuschynski (Blr), Liquigas, at 20:35
61. Arnaud Gerard (Fra), Française des Jeux, at 20:35
62. Jérôme Coppel (Fra), Française des Jeux, at 20:35
63. Stéphane Goubert (Fra), AG2R La Mondiale, at 20:35
64. Rubén Pérez (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 20:35
65. Joan Horrach (Spa), Caisse d’Epargne, at 21:58
66. Sergio Paulinho (Por), Astana, at 24:02
67. Janez Brajkovic (Slo), Astana, at 24:02
68. Sebastian Lang (Ger), Gerolsteiner, at 24:02
69. Björn Schröder (Ger), Team Milram, at 25:18
70. Stef Clement (Ned), Bouygues Telecom, at 26:30
71. Oscar Pereiro (Spa), Caisse d’Epargne, at 31:50
72. Nicolas Portal (Fra), Caisse d’Epargne, at 31:50
73. Roy Sentjens (Bel), Silence-Lotto, at 31:50
74. Andriy Grivko (Ukr), Team Milram, at 31:50
75. Volker Ordowski (Ger), Gerolsteiner, at 31:50
76. Dmitry Grabovskiy (Ukr), Quick Step, at 31:50
77. Florent Brard (Fra), Cofidis, at 31:50
78. William Bonnet (Fra), Crédit Agricole, at 31:50
79. Iñaki Flores (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 31:50
80. Arnaud Labbe (Fra), Bouygues Telecom, at 31:50
81. Craig Lewis (USA), High Road, at 31:50
82. Mauro Da Dalto (Ita), Liquigas, at 31:50
83. Davide Viganò (Ita), Quick Step, at 31:50
84. Tom Stamsnijder (Ned), Gerolsteiner, at 31:50
85. Manuel Quinziato (Ita), Liquigas, at 31:50
86. Scott Davis (Aus), High Road, at 31:50
87. Alexandre Pichot (Fra), Bouygues Telecom, at 31:50
88. Charles Wegelius (GBr), Liquigas, at 31:50
89. Frederik Willems (Bel), Liquigas, at 31:50
90. Javier Mejías (Spa), Saunier Duval-Scott, at 31:50
91. Stéphane Augé (Fra), Cofidis, at 31:50
92. Karsten Kroon (Ned), Team CSC, at 31:50
93. Kevin Van Impe (Bel), Quick Step, at 31:50
94. Juan José Oroz (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 35:51
95. Heinrich Haussler (Ger), Gerolsteiner, at 39:44
96. Peter Wrolich (Aut), Gerolsteiner, at 39:44
97. Brett Lancaster (Aus), Team Milram, at 39:44
98. Bert Grabsch (Ger), High Road, at 39:44
99. Josep Jufré (Spa), Saunier Duval-Scott, at 39:44
100. David De La Fuente (Spa), Saunier Duval-Scott, at 39:44
101. Pedro Horrillo (Spa), Rabobank, at 39:44
102. Juan José Cobo (Spa), Saunier Duval-Scott, at 39:44
103. Jelle Vanendert (Bel), Française des Jeux, at 39:44
104. Benjamin Noval (Spa), Astana, at 39:44
105. José Vicente Garcia (Spa), Caisse d’Epargne, at 39:44
106. Carlos Barredo (Spa), Quick Step, at 39:44
107. Christophe Riblon (Fra), AG2R La Mondiale, at 39:44
108. Laurent Lefèvre (Fra), Bouygues Telecom, at 39:44
109. Dominik Roels (Ger), Team Milram, at 39:44
110. Sebastian Schwager (Ger), Team Milram, at 39:44
111. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra), Cofidis, at 39:44
112. Valerio Agnoli (Ita), Liquigas, at 39:44
113. Arnaud Coyot (Fra), Caisse d’Epargne, at 39:44
114. William Walker (Aus), Rabobank, at 39:44
115. Julien Loubet (Fra), AG2R La Mondiale, at 39:44
116. Maryan Hary (Fra), Cofidis, at 39:44
117. Christian Kux (Ger), Team Milram, at 39:44
118. Sébastien Chavanel (Fra), Française des Jeux, at 39:44
119. Bart Dockx (Bel), Silence-Lotto, at 39:44
120. Alberto Fernández De La Puebla (Spa), Saunier Duval-Scott, at 39:44
121. Beñat Albizuri (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 42:08

Did not finish

Matthew Lloyd (Aus), Silence-Lotto
Tomas Vaitkus (Ltu), Astana
Jon Bru (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi
John Gadret (Fra), AG2R La Mondiale
Carlo Westphal (Ger), Gerolsteiner
Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe), Team CSC
Aurélien Passeron (Fra), Saunier Duval-Scott
Sergio Ghisalberti (Ita), Team Milram

1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa), Caisse d’Epargne, 24:14:58
2. Cadel Evans (Aus), Silence-Lotto, at 0:39
3. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Astana, at 1:24
4. Robert Gesink (Ned), Rabobank, at 2:47
5. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 3:19
6. Cyril Dessel (Fra), AG2R La Mondiale, at 4:01
7. Mikel Astarloza (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 4:25
8. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol), Lampre, at 4:29
9. Maxime Monfort (Bel), Cofidis, at 4:45
10. Michael Rogers (Aus), High Road, at 5:33
11. Daniel Navarro (Spa), Astana, at 6:46
12. Manuel Beltrán (Spa), Liquigas, at 6:47
13. Sandy Casar (Fra), Française des Jeux, at 6:54
14. Matteo Carrara (Ita), Quick Step, at 7:23
15. Rémy Di Gregorio (Fra), Française des Jeux, at 7:34
16. Iouri Trofimov (Rus), Bouygues Telecom, at 8:20
17. Rémi Pauriol (Fra), Crédit Agricole, at 9:06
18. Lars Bak (Den), Team CSC, at 10:31
19. Juan Manuel Gárate (Spa), Quick Step, at 11:18
20. Carlos Sastre (Spa), Team CSC, at 12:01

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