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By Magnus Bäckstedt, Liquigas-Bianchi professional cycling team
Quite a day, today…
I’ve finished in Tours before – Paris-Tours a few times, for example – and I really like this finish: Wide open streets and lots of room to fight out the sprint. It’s just things didn’t quite work out like we had planned.
My job today was supposed to be lead-out man for (Luciano) Pagliarini, but coming into to Tours, we didn’t actually find each other in the peloton. That’s not all that unusual, especially when things are as chaotic as they are in this Tour. There really is no single team keeping things under control in the sprints. Without Petacchi here, Fassa Bortolo isn’t doing that and there is no other team riding solely for the purpose of bringing their sprinter to the line. No Petacchi. No Cipollini… and so it’s a free-for-all coming into town. It’s not bad, it’s just different. It’s a lot more of a lottery.
As I said, my job today was to work for Pagliarini. We really make the call each morning, depending on the course and how the guys feel. It’s not a bad deal. Some days you do the lead-out and some days the favor is returned. Pagliarini was really well-rested and feeling good, so that was the plan. But, I couldn’t find him and so at one point I decided to contest the sprint myself. It’s difficult to change mental gears – especially at those speeds – and you end up doing it half-heartedly.
I was up there at the finish and, as it turns out, right behind the O’Grady and McEwen as they had that little encounter coming to the line. I was watching them the whole time waiting for them to come down. But that’s the way things are going into the sprint. No one wants to give even a millimeter away. It’s tough up there. McEwen loves that kind of riding and he’s always doing that sort of thing. O’Grady, though, is one of those guys who isn’t going to give a millimeter unless he has to. I don’t know what started it or what the end result was (McEwen was later relegated to the end of the field by race officials – Editor), but right there in front of me they were more or less climbing on top of each other. But, hey, as someone pointed out, it made for great television. Everything for the spectators, eh?
Looking to the team time trial tomorrow, I am not sure how things will go. The course – especially the first part – will suit us well. It’ll be pan-flat going out until the end. It gets a little dicey going into town, with quite a number of turns. I hope it doesn’t rain, that’s all.
We have some strong guys on the team, but this group has not ridden together at 100 percent before, so it’s going to be a question of whether we can all get it together and really work well as a team. We’ll see how it works out and take it as it goes.