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Armstrong still secure in yellow
By Rupert Guinness, Special to VeloNews
Australian Robbie McEwen stole the show again at the Tour de France on Friday, both on and off the bike, as the great race headed into Germany. McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) won’t be seen in the fray of battle in the mountains coming up this weekend, but he did more than enough to leave a lasting impression on the 2005 Tour as it completed its first week.
The two-time green jersey champion claimed his second stage win of the first week by outsprinting Swede Magnus Bäckstedt (Liquigas-Bianchi) and Austrian Bernhard Eisel (Française des Jeux) in a bunch sprint marred by another nasty crash in the finale.
Even if you didn’t see the sprint finish, you could tell McEwen had won by seeing his beaming smile after crossing the line. Responding to an immediate question that came from a battery of reporters asking if he was happy — and not knowing the question came from a Spanish reporter who did not speak fluent English — the elated McEwen said: “What d’you think? You’ll have to come up with a better question than that.”
As impressive as McEwen’s performance was to win the 228.5km stage from Lunéville to Karlsruhe, almost as good was his performance at the post-race press conference.Resultsare posted
McEwen revealed that after riding in an early two-man attack with Germany’s Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), he rejoined the peloton by stopping and hiding in a bush until the pack swept by without knowing he had even left the breakaway.
McEwen’s win, his seventh in his Tour career, also pulled him up the points ladder for the green jersey, which he coyly says he is still too far behind on points to win. But not everyone agrees.
After bagging 35 points with his win today, McEwen is now on 96 points and in third place behind Norway’s Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), who is on 122 points, and competition leader Tom Boonen (Quick Step) on 133 points.
It doesn’t take much math to figure out McEwen could still come back into contention if he continues his winning form in the likely remaining sprinters’ stages in Montpellier (July 15), Revel (July 20) and Paris (July 24).
McEwen could be especially dangerous if Boonen and Hushovd negate their bids by battling for points in the intermediate sprints as they did Friday when Boonen took the edge in the last two.
Boonen, while having won two stages and ridden superbly, has also taken a few knocks to his confidence by crashing in the last two stages. Friday’s crash came at 23.5km and so the Belgian missed contesting the first intermediate sprint at Rambervillers (32.5km).
“I thought my back was broken,” said Boonen, who would finish a disappointing seventh in the final gallop. “Two guys crashed on top of me. My bike was totally destroyed. I am in a lot of pain in my back and hip.”
Stage 7 was trouble free for American Tour champion Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel) who finished 53rd, comfortably in the middle of the pack. Armstrong still leads the race by 55 seconds from teammate George Hincapie, followed by Kazakhstan’s Alex Vinokourov (T-Mobile) at 1:02 and German Jens Voigt (CSC) at 1:04.
After the finish, Armstrong said he was thankful for having survived the first and traditionally nervous opening week without any major falls or hiccups.
“The race is about to start now that we have made it through the first week. I am glad that one week is down and there are two to go,” said Armstrong, adding that his team’s work defending the jersey has been made easier by the sprinters’ teams.
“We have really just been riding a medium tempo, then they have been taking over,” he said. “We might have been defending the jersey but we have been getting a lot of help.”
Big German welcome
After arriving in Karlsruhe to a thunderous cheer from the biggest crowds seen yet on this Tour, an estimated 400,000 in the final 40km, a victorious McEwen again paid tribute to his loyal Davitamon-Lotto teammates who were tireless in setting him up for his best crack at the victory.
“It is always again us taking the initiative,” said McEwen after a long day in the saddle that saw many early attacks despite heavy rain falling for much of it. “We thought there could possibly could have been a break,” he said. “I was even just jumping with them, making a couple of attacks of my own because you never know.”
The most significant of McEwen’s moves came when he joined Wegmann on a downhill at 46km in a two-up break. It followed a number of attacks that began in the first 10km and continued until the first King of the Mountains prime — the Col de la Chipotte — where Wegmann was the first to cross over.
McEwen’s escapade — certainly not the first in his career — lasted for about 10km, when her and Wegmann were ahead of the pack by one minute and “in a place I didn’t want to be.”
The Aussie champion decided to sit up and return to the peloton and leave Wegmann to ride on alone. “I said, ‘Okay, if a group of seven or eight guys comes in the next 10km we will go. If they don’t I’m going back and you have a nice day.’ So I went back,” he said.
When he did, it wasn’t the way most would have expected, as McEwen revealed, ”I actually hid behind the bush until the peloton came past and then I jumped back on the back, so a lot of guys didn’t know I was back in with them.”
It was a credit to Wegmann, who won the day’s combativity award, that he lasted as long as he did. He led the Tour into his homeland with a 2:40 lead and wasn’t caught until 24km left and with more than 160km of solo effort in his legs.
From there it was destined to be impossible for any rider to get away, especially with so many sprinters’ teams vying for the win: starting with Davitamon-Lotto, and then followed by Liquigas-Bianchi, Crédit Agricole, Fassa Bortolo, Cofidis and Française des Jeux.
Coming into Karlsruhe, the peloton was greeted by wide straight boulevards lined by crowds five-deep and ideal for a massive bunch sprint— the last two kilometers were almost dead straight.
The Française des Jeux riders leading out Baden Cooke were the last to be at the front when the sprint began under Cooke’s impulse. He was passed by McEwen with 150 meters to go — the point at which the stage saw another nasty crash.
The crash was caused by another Australian sprinter, Allan Davis of Liberty Seguros, who was later relegated to last place for cutting across the road from left to right. Main victims of the crash were Italian Angelo Furlan (Domina Vacanze) and Spaniard Isaac Galvez (Illes Balears).
Even for McEwen, who was assisted greatly by American teammate Fred Rodriguez, it was not a simple dash. “Today’s finish was on a really big wide road. It was really bunched. Guys seemed to want to ride their sprint from about 20km out,” he said.
“I just said to my guys relax, take it easy, move it up gradually, don’t try and do one hard effort. Then we came under the kilometer sign. It was a bit of gamble going on the right side because for the same money I could have been totally closed in.
“But Rodriguez went from about 500 meters and moved me up to about seventh or eighth position. I still couldn’t see a way through, so I just waited a few hundred meters knowing I would pick my way through eventually.”
“It opened up on the right side as everyone swung to the left a little,” McEwen added. “I came between Baden Cooke and the barriers. I hit the front a lot sooner than I thought I would.
“The last 50 meters was hard. I suppose I didn’t even need to make a push at the line, but you want to be sure. It’s the Tour and you don’t want to throw away a stage. It felt great actually.”
With two wins to his name in the past three days, McEwen said he would now “start working on a third.” As a sprinter he has three real chances left to achieve that goal – starting next Friday after the Alps.
Oh … and then there is that green jersey competition that McEwen won’t talk about. Who knows, come Paris on July 24, he may be singing another tune!
1. Robbie Mc Ewen (Aus), Davitamon-Lotto
2. Magnus Bäckstedt (Swe), Liquigas-Bianchi
3. Bernhard Eisel (A), Française des Jeux
4. Gerrit Glomser (A), Lampre
5. Baden Cooke (Aus), Française des Jeux
6. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), Fassa Bortolo
7. Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step
8. Gianluca Bortolami (I), Lampre
9. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Crédit Agricole
10. Juan Antonio Flecha (Sp), Fassa Bortolo, all s.t.
1. Lance Armstrong (USA), Discovery Channel
2. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery Channel, 00:55
3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), T-Mobile, 01:02
4. Jens Voigt (G), CSC, 01:04
5. Bobby Julich (USA), CSC, 01:07
6. José Luis Rubiera (Sp), Discovery Channel, 01:14
7. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr), Discovery Channel, 01:16
8. Benjamin Noval Gonzalez (Sp), Discovery Channel, 01:26
9. Ivan Basso (I), CSC, 01:26
10. Arvesen Kurt-Asle (Nor), CSC, 01:32
To see how today’s stage developed, simply CLICK HERE to bring up our live update window.