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Points contenders take a breather on rest day No. 2

The contenders for the green jersey will certainly be among the 151 still left on the Tour de France looking forward to Tuesday's rest day. With Aussie Baden Cooke still in the green jersey and compatriot Robbie McEwen still trying to get hold of it, a day of relaxing and some light training will help the two rivals recharge their over-used batteries. "Two days ago I had a fairly bad day. It's not really how difficult the days are supposed to be. It's how you feel - but I did have a few bad days there," Cooke told AFP after the eventful 15th stage won by U.S. Postal’s Lance

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By VeloNews Interactive, Copyright AFP2003

The contenders for the green jersey will certainly be among the 151 still left on the Tour de France looking forward to Tuesday’s rest day.

With Aussie Baden Cooke still in the green jersey and compatriot Robbie McEwen still trying to get hold of it, a day of relaxing and some light training will help the two rivals recharge their over-used batteries.

“Two days ago I had a fairly bad day. It’s not really how difficult the days are supposed to be. It’s how you feel – but I did have a few bad days there,” Cooke told AFP after the eventful 15th stage won by U.S. Postal’s Lance Armstrong.

After the third of four days in the Pyrénées, Cooke, who finished in the “laughing group” 34:44 behind Armstrong, will be looking for some rest.

His eight-point lead over Lotto team leader McEwen in the green jersey’s points competition is likely to come under attack when the race heads back on to flatter ground on Thursday.

Norwegian Thor Hushovd, who rides for Stuart O’Grady’s Credit Agricole team, stole another two points on Monday when he came third on the first of two intermediate sprints.

However the big sprinter still lies in third on 134 points, 14 shy of McEwen’s tally of 148 and with O’Grady in fourth on 126 it remains to be seen how the game will be played out.

The Points Contest
1. Baden Cooke (Aus), FDJeux.com, 156 Pts.
2. Robbie Mc Ewen (Aus), Lotto-Domo, 148 Pts.
3. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Credit Agricole, 134 Pts.
4. Erik Zabel (G), Telekom, 126 Pts.
5. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Credit Agricole, 122 Pts.
6. Nazon Jean-patrick (F), Jean Delatour, 111 Pts.
7. Luca Paolini (I), Quick Step-Davitamon, 106 Pts.
8. Jan Ullrich (G), Bianchi, 98 Pts.
9. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), Telekom, 91 Pts.
10. Lance Armstrong (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 83 Pts

While McEwen’s Lotto team have struggled in their climbing the past few days – Belgian Hans De Clercq came last for the second day in a row on Monday and Australian Nick Gates is finding the going “really hard” – Cooke’s troops seem to be going slightly better.

And the 24-year-old Fdjeux.com sprinter admitted it had been partly by default that the likes of Brad McGee and Carlos Da Cruz had been told their only job was to protect his lead in the points competition.

“Well that was sort of forced upon them because of the fact they weren’t getting any results,” Cooke laughed as he made his way back down the mountain.

“Some of the guys who were on GC (general classification) weren’t going so good so they’ve just put it all on to me.”

McEwen meanwhile still has a fair chance of reclaiming the jersey that he won from six-time consecutive winner Erik Zabel last year.

The 31-year-old Queenslander said he was feeling strong and although he lost teammate Rik Verbrugghe on Sunday and Axel Merckx on Monday, McEwen still has enough firepower left to bounce back and challenge Cooke after Wednesday’s final day of climbing.

“I felt a lot better today than I did yesterday,” McEwen told AFP after arriving among Cooke’s group with teammate Gates.

“I’m looking forward to the rest day. It was still pretty hard today,” added McEwen when asked if the cooler temperatures after mostly blistering sunshine on the race had made it easier. “You still sweat buckets because it’s really humid.”

Gates came into the race to help McEwen protect his jersey. But the 31-year-old just happened to arrive on the year that Cooke, after his debut last year, is coming to the fore as a sprinter to be reckoned with.

Nonetheless the green jersey stakes were far from his mind on Monday as he remembered the pain he has been through of late.

“Yesterday was hard also. They’ll all hard, they’re all hard,” Gates lamented when asked if he had enjoyed a better day in the saddle after finishing among the stragglers the past few days. “I’m definitely looking to the rest day. We’ll do a few hours on the bike but the rest will do us good for sure.”

Cooke is also planning a training ride – and said he will be careful not to let the legs get too rusty.

“I have to do a few hours to avoid a shutdown, like I did last time,” he said. “I only did an hour the last time and that’s what happened.”
Copyright AFP2003