Rafael Valls gave his under-appreciated Footon-Servetto team something to cheer about in Saturday’s hilly run to Rousses.
The Spanish rookie pro attacked on the Croix de la Serra and came closest to catching stage-winner Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), crossing the line second at 57 seconds.
“I got pretty close to catching Chavanel, but he powered away from me again. I felt good on the last climb. To finish second in the stage is a good sign,” Valls said. “It was good to be out there in the breakaway. We’ll keep looking for a stage win here at this Tour.”
Valls is a pure climber in the long tradition of Spanish mountains goats. Many expect him to join a major team next year. Last year, he won the queen stage at the mountainous Circuito Montañes U23 race won by Tejay Van Garderen and finished fourth overall.
The big result comes as a boon for Footon-Servetto, which has been heavily criticized as being not worthy of a spot in the Tour.
The team comes with a squad full of Tour rookies. None have started the Tour before and only a handful has raced a grand tour.
“I had a bad knee injury this season, so even to be at the Tour is a victory for me,” Valls said. “Being in the Tour is amazing. It’s like another dimension for me to be in this race.”
Footon-Servetto is still trying to move beyond the disastrous doping scandal that engulfed the team during the 2008 Tour. Riccardo Riccò and Leonardo Piepoli both tested positive for CERA following stage victories. That sent title sponsor Saunier Duval running for the hills and the team principals were able to scramble enough money together to keep the team afloat in 2009.
“I feel truly proud and satisfied of what all the team did today, as well Valls on front as Capecchi in the chase, but you always get some bitter flavor because the victory is what counts, and we didn’t match it today,” said sport director Joxean Matxin Fernandez.
“I think we reacted well to the fact we didn’t get into the first break. We knew there were too few riders on front and that the pace in the peloton was making things hard for them. Those attacks in the penultimate climb made us tell Valls to attack and give the team some presence. We were always searching for Cunego’s wheel in the group, because he was theoretically the strongest rider for such finishes, but in the end Chavanel broke apart. Now we have to be cautious: we know getting these results is very hard and that we got also bad moments during the race, just like the ones that might come, but we’re going to keep our spirit and seek on for the victory.”
The squad cannot be criticized for a lack of trying this season. The squad has notched 20 second and third places so far in 2010 to go along with six victories. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the team’s first win of the year came with Valls back in January at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina.