By VeloNews wire services
David Millar has blamed his Cofidis team and its manager, Alain Bondue, for the mechanical incident that cost him victory in the Tour de France prologue.
Millar, who won the Tour prologue in 2000, looked set to win the Tour’s 6.5km opener in Paris on Saturday when his chain came off before the last curve. He reached down and replaced the chain, but the delay cost him – he finished second, just 0.8 second behind Australian Bradley McGee.
Team sources said Cofidis riders were using new aerodynamic chain rings that had caused problems in the Tour of Catalunya. Other Cofidis riders, like Luis Perez and David Moncoutie, also suffered mechanical problems in the prologue.
Teammates who had already finished their races were devastated as they watched events unfold on television from their hotel room. Italian Massimiliano Lelli left the room in tears, and was soon followed by Mederic Clain, himself a victim of the under-rated chainring, as their dream of defending the yellow jersey for the first week frittered away.
“It’s a total disaster,” said French teammate Philippe Gaumont. “David had done everything to prepare well for this prologue, and if he hadn’t had this problem, he would have cruised to the win. “We would have been able to hold on to the yellow jersey until the team time trial. It was everyone on the team’s dream to get the jersey and to ride around Paris with it on David’s shoulders, then go on to defend it. It’s inexcusable. The whole thing is amateurish.”
As for Millar, he said he had had enough.
“It was not a problem with my chain ring, it was a problem with my team,” said Millar on Sunday. “Alain Bondue chooses the team’s equipment, so it’s his problem. It all falls on his head, and he has to take responsibility. I damned killed everybody yesterday, so I know I’m the strongest in the race at the moment.”
Bondue rejected Millar’s allegations, saying the Cofidis team leader had made his own choice of equipment for the prologue and ignored advice to keep to traditional chain rings.
“When we saw that other Cofidis riders had problems with the new aerodynamic rings, I told David to change them back to the normal ones, but he refused,” the Frenchman said.
Bondue added that Millar also removed his front derailleur to make his bike lighter.
“I told him to put it back, but he wouldn’t. I knew before the start that his chain would jump off,” he said.
The incident during the prologue led to a reshuffle inside the Cofidis team. Francis van Londersele was put in charge of the sporting direction at the expense of Bondue, who will now be solely responsible for the logistics of the team.
Millar said the decision, made by Cofidis owner Francois Migraine, was a sanction against Bondue.
“That came from Migraine and from me,” he said. “Migraine has now understood the problems with Cofidis. There have been the same problems for six or seven years. But it can change.”
But Bondue said he was the one that asked for the reshuffle to take place.
“We just went back to the previous situation,” he said. “I’m the team’s boss, and I was drawn into taking care of the sporting aspects, but I can’t do everything.”
Regardless of the changes, Millar’s future with Cofidis appeared to be in doubt amid rumors that he had signed a provisional deal for next season with the U.S Postal team of four-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong.
Before the start of the season, Millar made it clear that he was not happy with the Cofidis system and that he was ready to leave if he did not obtain the results he thought he deserved.
“We have a wonderful sponsor. We have every chance of making it the best team in the world, and that’s what I want to do,” Millar said. “It depends on what happens in the team in the next three weeks. I haven’t made any decision about my future yet, but I may well do during the Tour. As far as I’m concerned, they (Cofidis) are on probation.”