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Pozzato scrambles for Tour win; Voeckler gets another day in yellow

Filippo Pozzato did for his Fassa Bortolo teammates Saturday what their celebrated-yet-absent leader Alessandro Petacchi could not: Win a stage at this year’s Tour de France. With Petacchi back at home nursing injuries from a crash in the fifth stage to Chartres, Pozzato's stage 7 victory gave the Fassas much cause for needed cheer going into week two of the Tour "I didn't think it would be my day, but I was hoping to win the stage. After Alessandro left the race yesterday it kind of gave us the freedom to go out there and do our own thing," explained Pozzato, who joins prologue winner

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By Rupert Guinness, Special to VeloNews

Pozzato takes the stage

Pozzato takes the stage

Photo: AFP

Pozzatto pulls off a last-minute win in his debut at the Tour

Pozzatto pulls off a last-minute win in his debut at the Tour

Photo: Graham Watson

Filippo Pozzato did for his Fassa Bortolo teammates Saturday what their celebrated-yet-absent leader Alessandro Petacchi could not: Win a stage at this year’s Tour de France.

With Petacchi back at home nursing injuries from a crash in the fifth stage to Chartres, Pozzato’s stage 7 victory gave the Fassas much cause for needed cheer going into week two of the Tour

“I didn’t think it would be my day, but I was hoping to win the stage. After Alessandro left the race yesterday it kind of gave us the freedom to go out there and do our own thing,” explained Pozzato, who joins prologue winner Fabian Cancellara in handing his team a stage victory. Pozzato, 22, won the 204.5km stage across Brittany from Châteaubriant to Saint-Brieuc by outsprinting Spaniards Iker Flores (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears-Banesto).

The three were part of a last-minute group of seven that escaped off the front of the peloton in the closing kilometers. Indeed, the margin was so tight that some of the escapees were caught just on the line by a hard-charging peloton led by Norway’s Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole).

Ensconced safely in the peloton were all the main overall contenders – Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal), Tyler Hamilton (Phonak), Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) – and, of course, the yellow jersey, Frenchman Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere), who still has the biggest smile of anyone in the race.

For Pozzato, it was his first Tour stage wins and biggest since he graduated from the old Mapei team’s Under-23 program to the Fassa Bortolo elite line-up last year.

He quickly made his mark there last year, winning five races, including Tirreno-Adriatico; but Saturday’s win will certainly raise expectations for his future objectives.

By winning Saturday’s stage, Pozzato vindicated his boss’s decision to not race him in the Giro d’Italia where Petacchi won nine stages, opting instead to save him for his Tour de France debut.

The decisive break formed with four kilometers to go. In it were Pozzato, Flores and Mancebo, Frenchmen Laurent Brochard (AG2R) and Breton Sebastian Hinault (Crédit Agricole), and Italy’s Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze) and Paolo Bettini (Quickstep).

Pozzato, Flores and Mancebo got their jump after they chased down a furious attack by Brochard and surged ahead with a five-second lead with one kilometer to go. But that was no easy kilometer, since it included a hard 600-meter rise to before hitting a false-flat run to the finish line.

It was Mancebo who braved the first chance for a win by leading out the sprint with 250 meters to go, but Pozzato was too fast and charged past the Spaniard from 50 meters out.

The outcome was something of a surprise, considering a bunch sprint was forecast, but many in the battle weary peloton, still carrying wounds from the previous day’s mass pile-up near the finish, may have been happy to see a small group get away.

Judging by the sentiment of Hamilton (Phonak) who fell and hurt his back at Angers on Friday, a bunch sprint was something he and most did not want to be a part of Saturday.

Hamilton has proposed to Tour race director Jean-Marie Leblanc that for stages with bunch finishes, times should be taken with two or three kilometers to go to allow the non-sprinters’ teams to avoid dangers like what the peloton experienced at the stage six finish at Angers.

But Saturday did not pass without incident. There were several crashes, the worst at 127km with three riders, including Swiss Sven Montgomery (Gerolsteiner) who broke his right shoulder.

Thirty kilometers later, at least one GC contender – Crédit Agricole’s Christophe Moreau – was caught off guard when the CSC team surged to the front of the peloton in anticipation of a major wind shift as the day’s route ran along side a wet and windy Cap Frehel. While Moreau and points jersey leader Stuart O’Grady were caught off guard, other contenders – Armstrong, Ullrich, Hamilton and Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) – were in the right spot when the field split apart under relentless pressure from CSC.

Also in the action up front was Armstrong’s teammate George Hincapie whose leg-breaking turns at the front have been his trademark all Tour.

At the time, a two man attack of Dutchman Erik Dekker (Rabobank) and Belgian Erik Marichial (Lotto-Domo) was still out in front, having been on the attack for more than 100km on the narrow, bumpy and undulating Breton roads.

With the CSC/Postal drive powering the front group, the Moreau/O’Grady chase group lost nearly a minute and was forced to desperately chase for the next 20km.

Postal joined in the fun, too

Postal joined in the fun, too

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

It had already been another tough day in the saddle for O’Grady after his stage five win in a break and second place in stage six. His points competition lead had already come under attack after starting the day with a two point lead over Australian Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo).

O’Grady temporarily lost his hold on the jersey on the road when McEwen bagged four points for his third-place finishes at the second and third intermediate sprints at 71.5km (Montfort-sur-Meu) and 129.5km (Plancoet). With McEwen up in the front group, O’Grady’s hold on the jersey seemed less than certain.

Luckily for the Cofidis man, the front group slowed when the day’s two early escapees were caught and the wind shifted as the course turned toward Saint-Brieuc.

The peloton regrouped and then both O’Grady and McEwen did their best to contest the field sprint on the charge to the line seconds after Pozzato’s win. O’Grady managed 10th and McEwen 13th, enough of a margin to allow him to keep the jersey for another day.

For Voeckler, the day proved a stiff test of his ability to hang on to the yellow jersey.

“The stage went off quickly and when the two-man attack went we were quite happy because none of the guys were contenders in the general classification,” said the 24-year-old Frenchman.

Voeckler finished 10 seconds back in the pack with the overall contenders

Voeckler finished 10 seconds back in the pack with the overall contenders

Photo: Graham Watson

“But with around 50km to go when we approached the coast it started to get a lot harder. We knew already that CSC might try the same stunt they had tried in Paris-Nice. But the Boulangere team worked well today. I’m very happy with the guys. We’re trying to conserve as much energy as possible and we’ll be trying to hold on to the jersey for as long as possible.”


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