By Andrew Hood
Stage winner Stefan Schumacher was more surprised than anyone to be back on the Tour de France podium after claiming victory in Saturday’s time trial.
Schumacher’s win in the first time trial at a distance of 29.5km wasn’t a complete surprise because he’s done well in shorter distances, but his 21-second victory ahead of Olympic favorite and two-time world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara wasn’t expected by many.
“I’m really surprised to win another time trial, especially over 53km. But it was really a perfect course for me,” he said. “I felt a great rhythm in my legs. It was the best I’ve felt the whole Tour.”
Asked if the stage win takes the sting out of losing the yellow jersey because of a stage 6 crash on Super-Bresse, the same crash that later kept teammate Bernhard Kohl from taking the jersey, Schumacher said, “For sure, winning helps ease that. That was a painful way to lose the jersey, and the whole team was really down when that happened. But now, if you look at it, that crash kept Bernhard from taking the jersey, and if he had taken it and the team had ridden for him earlier in the race, maybe he wouldn’t be finishing on the podium now.”
Cancellara, meanwhile, wasn’t going to let his second runner-up result of this year’s Tour undermine what was a great day for the team. The big Swiss time machine knows he has some work to do ahead of the Beijing Summer Olympics if he wants to strike gold, but says now he wants to savor the moment.
“We’re going to win the Tour, that’s the most important. Carlos demonstrated today that he’s the true champion of the Tour and that he deserves his victory,” Cancellara said. “Everyone saw that during these past three weeks that we were the strongest team on this Tour. Cadel (Evans) and the others didn’t have a team to fight against ours.”
Vande Velde promises more
Christian Vande Velde put a nice finishing touch on what’s been a great Tour with a solid fourth-place ride in the final time trial.
Vande Velde moved up to fifth overall at 3:12 back in what was an excellent performance for the 31-year-old in his first Tour as GC captain for Garmin-Chipotle.
“I’m happy with my ride today,” Vande Velde said at the line. “I had Matt White and Allen Lim in my ear, and I had Dave Millar’s time splits, and those guys took care of me.”
Vande Velde was one of the revelations of this year’s Tour. He consistently stayed with the top GC riders in all the key stages in the Alps and Pyrénées.
His podium hopes took a shot, however, when he crashed coming down the beyond-category steeps of the Bonette in stage 17 to forfeit more than two minutes to his rivals.
“Of course I’ll always wonder how I would have finished [on GC] if I hadn’t crashed and lost that time, but at the same time, I cam here with the goal of finishing top 10, so I have to be happy with fifth,” he said. “Next year we’ll be back with a strong team and the plan is to do as well, if not better.”
Lotto party silenced
Plans for an elaborate victory party for Silence-Lotto were shelved after Cadel Evans couldn’t close the deal against Spanish climber Carlos Sastre in Saturday’s time trial.
The team had rented out a Parisian discotheque and hired five white limousines to deliver the triumphant riders. Rather than yellow, the night’s theme was supposed to be white, with everyone dressed up in white tuxedos and dinner dresses.
Instead, the team’s celebration plans went black Saturday when Sastre fended off Evans to relegate the Australian to second place to a Spanish rider for the second year in a row.
“I rode well and I believe I made a good time trial, but my rivals were just incredible,” said a disappointed Evans. “I wasn’t nervous at all. I was always calm. I tried to do the best I could, but they beat us. Carlos Sastre was stronger and he counted on a great team.”
George Hincapie (Columbia) capped his 13th career Tour with a strong ride to 10th, but even he was astonished he rode so well.
“I’m surprised to have had a good [10th place] ride. I really didn’t feel very good at all. I felt like I was pedaling with one leg, and putting my weight onto my [scraped] elbow didn’t feel very good,” Hincapie said at the line. “But I think maybe because this is my 13th Tour I’ve got a bit more endurance over three weeks than some of the younger guys.”
Up next for Hincapie is the Beijing Games and the U.S. national championship.
Sastre in seventh heaven
Carlos Sastre is poised to become the seventh Spanish rider to win the Tour de France. Barring disaster in Sunday’s final stage, Sastre will become the third consecutive Spanish winner at the Tour.
Other Spanish winners are Federico Bahamontes (1959), Luis Ocaña (1973), Pedro Delgado (1988), Miguel Indurain (1991-95), Oscar Pereiro (2006) and Alberto Contador (2007).
Freire scores a Spanish first
Rabobank will have at least something to celebrate something Sunday in Paris.
After Denis Menchov’s podium bid ran out of steam, sprinter Oscar Freire is poised to become the first Spanish rider to win the Tour’s green points jersey.
It’s an impressive accomplishment for Freire, who saw little or no support during the entire Tour, as the team was built around supporting Menchov. Compatriot José Antonio Flecha was the only rider who would help try to position Freire in the sprints.
The three-time world champion quietly picked up points and broke through to win a stage at Dignes-les-Bains in the Tour’s second week. With such rivals as Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) slowed by illness or Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto) left alone without support in the sprints, Freire’s consistency will help him make an historic first in what’s only the second time the oft-injured Spanish rider makes it to Paris.