By Justin Davis, Agence France Presse
Frenchman Cyril Dessel of AG2R finally drew a line under his nightmare 2007 season with a prestigious maiden win on the Tour de France 16th stage on Tuesday.
Dessel came to the wider cycling world’s attention when he wore the race’s yellow jersey for a day in 2006 — when he finally had to hand it over to disgraced American Floyd Landis.
A year later Dessel disappeared almost entirely from the peloton after succumbing to toxoplasmosis.
Months of hard work followed during the winter, and he re-emerged with important stage wins at the Four Days of Dunkirk, the Tour of Catalonia and the Dauphine Libere earlier this year.
After a quiet Tour de France thus far, Dessel seized his chance with both hands after escaping from a small breakaway group at the end of a long descent, outsprinting compatriot Sandy Casar prior to the finish line.
“I’ve come a long way since 2007, which was a really difficult year for me,” said Dessel after claiming his team’s first stage win of this year’s race.
“I was really at rock bottom because of my health problems, but thankfully I was given a lot of support from friends and family. I worked hard to get back into shape and today all that effort has paid off.”
Dessel’s bid to shine on the race’s earlier stages was kept in check by yet another health problem, although one that was a little more delicate.
“I was in real pain at the start of the Tour because of hemmorhoids. But today I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity go begging because it’s not every year there’s a stage that suits you.
“I came close in 2006, and I got the yellow jersey as consolation.
“After my wins earlier this year I knew I wanted to add a stage win from the Tour. It’s great, a bit of a relief really — and it’s good for French cycling.”
Dessel had been part of an earlier breakaway group that caught Germany’s Stefan Schumacher shortly before the summit of the Cime de la Bonette-Restefond.
After a long descent with three other riders, the 33-year-old Frenchman made his decisive move inside the last kilometre to finish ahead of Casar, with Spaniard David Arroyo finishing third ahead of Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych.
“I knew from looking at the race book there was a bend in the final 150 meters so I knew I had to attack with 400 meters to go because after the bend it would have been impossible to overtake,” he added.
“It was a really tense finish and I told myself I had to stay as calm as possible, but in the end it worked out perfectly.”