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Cycling’s national champions are fired up for the Tour

2011 wins for UCI ProTeams

(in UCI .1 races and higher through June 30)
1. HTC-Highroad 30 (11 riders)
2. Omega Pharma-Lotto 19 (four riders)
3. Garmin-Cervélo 18 (11 riders)
Team RadioShack 18 (11 riders)
5. Rabobank 18 (eight riders)
Lampre-ISD 18 (eight riders)
7. Movistar 17 (eight riders)
8. Vacansoleil-DCM 16 (six riders)
9. Sky 14 (seven riders)
10. Leopard-Trek 14 (six riders)
11. Saxo Bank-SunGard 14 (four riders)
12. Liquigas-Cannondale 13 (five riders)
13. Katusha 8 (three riders)
14. Euskaltel-Euskadi 6 (four riders)
15. Astana 5 (four riders)
16. Quick Step 4 (three riders)
17. AG2R-La Mondiale 3 (three riders)
18. BMC Racing 3 (one rider)

After being awarded the jersey alongside his two sons, Baptiste and Maxence, Chavanel said, “This jersey is going to give me new ambitions as I know that to win races with it on your back only adds to the win’s magnitude.”

Also taking his first national title after years of trying was Gilbert, who won the Belgian championship on a course at Hooglede-Gits that didn’t really suit him. The sprinters were expected to dominate, but Gilbert took off from the 18-strong front group 3km from the finish on what served as the course’s main climb — a short cobbled stretch of road that had a tiny 1.5-percent grade.

“It’s an honor to be champion of Belgium,” Gilbert said. “To wear this jersey for a year in the very biggest races — that will be super.”

Wiggins won his title before a surprisingly large crowd at Stamfordham in northeast England by first being one of six Team Sky men in a 12-man break, then pulling clear with teammates Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh, before heading off alone to take the road title to go with the time-trial championship he earned a few weeks ago.

“I wear the time trial jersey with absolute pride,” Wiggins said. “And now to go into the Tour de France and battle through in the British champion’s jersey — it’ll be fantastic!”

Cancellara, who first won the Swiss road title in 2009, utterly dominated his national championship on a course at Kirchdorf, only 15km from his home near Zürich. He split the large peloton the first time up the circuit’s main climb; accelerated midway on the same hill to cut the lead group to less than a dozen; and attacked again on the penultimate lap where only BMC Racing’s Steve Morabito could stick with him.

After easily out-sprinting Morabito for the win, Cancellara said, “This is the second time I’ve won (the jersey) so I must say that I got attached to it the first time around.”

There was not a great deal of competition in the Luxembourg championship road race. In the small field, Andy Schleck made a decisive solo break, and brother Fränk later joined him and they crossed the finish line together, with big brother Fränk taking the title for a second year.

In Russia, Katusha riders swept the first four places, with Brutt the chosen winner; in Denmark, Sørensen finished alone after attacking in turn with Saxo teammate Chris Anker Sørensen in a five-man break; Lampre’s Bole needed a strong sprint to overcome a competitive field in Slovenia; and in Lithuania the bull-like Navardauskas finished solo, a minute ahead of a 15-strong chase group.

Wearing their national colors in the Tour gives all 10 of these new champions an extra lift. Chavanel will find his popularity soaring over the next three weeks, just as previous French champions Thomas Voeckler did in 2004 and Bernard Hinault in 1978.

Voeckler said he felt inspired by his tricolor jersey seven years ago to go on the attack — which resulted in him forging a long successful breakaway that earned him the yellow jersey for a 10-day stretch. And Hinault, as national champ in his debut Tour, famously led a rider go-slow to protest onerously long transfers and double-stage days (which no longer exist) before swapping blue-white-red for yellow in the final time trial.

Chavanel already wore yellow in 2010 following his two stage wins, but this year could see Gilbert taking the maillot jaune in opening week — perhaps starting with this Saturday uphill stage 1 finish on the Mont des Alouettes above the town of Les Herbiers.

(Editor’s note: Every week through the 2011 road season, VeloNews Editor-at-Large John Wilcockson is writing about key features of the week’s racing. This is the 20th installment. As he’ll be writing his daily “Inside the Tour” piece for the next three weeks, this “Inside Cycling” column will continue in August.)

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