photo: Yuzuru Sunada
Friday 18 July / Stage 13:Narbonne–Nîmes—182km
On a warm, sunny Friday that traversed the pathway of the ancientRoman road from Narbonne to Nimes, Stage 13 was a classic Tour De France transitional stage that pitted an early break against the onslaught of the sprinters teams. In contrast to Thursday’s stage, the pace was slow but it didn’t matter to Mark Cavendish (Columbia), as the 23 year old Manxman proved that at this moment in time, he is the fastest fastman on Planet Earth. Cavendish took his fourth stage win of theTour De France with a brutal lead-out from 270 meters that crushed his rivals, beating Aussie Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto) and former Maillot Jaune,Frenchman Romain Feillu (Agritrubel). Maillot Vert Spaniard Oscar Freire was 5th,retaining his Green Jersey of Best Sprinter.
The likeable young Manxman, emerging as one of this Tour’s true heroes explained “I had to give it a final push and give it full gas again at the end because when I did the initial kick I didn’t realize there was a headwind at the finish. I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m going to have to get a further advantage…’ and so I put in another kick with about 100 to go in case I died. I didn’t die and I was able to hold on so I’m pleased.” Cavendish has the rare ability to double-kick in the last 100m., a talent that will win him many more races in the future.
Achuffed Cav continued, saying “My team-mates were absolutely willing to put in the work for me. You could see it all day long. There was a breakaway so they had to use their legs and ride hard. There was a crosswind and they were doing everything they could to give me shelter and they did that in the final too. I was dropped off by Marcus Burghardt who delivered me to the Liquigas train and then I was able to use that to my advantage and go on to win the stage.”
“There is a little bit of a joke going around about how I’m demoralizing the other sprinters but it’s all in good nature. You know, I can win four stages but I’m still no closer to the green jersey which is what the Tour is all about. You have to be consistently good and I’m not experienced enough to be consistently good. If might have a win but then I’ll come 10th. Where guys like Oscar[Freire] will get second, third, second, third, third… and so on. That adds upto get the green jersey. We’ll still see if I decide to go all the way to Paris. I’m still taking it day by day.” But young Cavendish, riding his second Grand Tour of the year, may not make it through the last week of Le Tour, especially on the tough mountain stages where he could finish outside the time limit. But if the Cav sees the finish line in Paris, five alive is no stretch for cycling’s next super-sprinter.
Maillot Vert Oscar “The Cat” Freire was 5th today and explained post-stage “Roman Feillu and Heinrich Haussler passed me in the last in the last few meters and that means I lost a few more points from what would have been an ideal finish today. Now I have to start paying closer attention to Cavendish. If we arrive in Digne-les-Bains tomorrow with another sprint, he can win again. Also in Paris, it’s perfect for him. We’ll see, I know the the green jersey isn't mine yet. I have to get some points for the finish. If I lose one day, you can lose everything.”
The three time World Champion said “I’m not very happy with myself because I don’t feel really good in the sprint in this Tour. Last year I was much better. At the beginning of the season, I was much better in the sprint. This morning I just didn’t feel good. Sometimes you don’t have the right condition when you want it. Before the Tour de France, I was not really in the best condition. Normally I am very steady but not this month. So my tactic now is to stay there every day and while I might not get the victory, I must make sure I’m present at the finish.”
Still in the Maillot Jaune, Cadel Evans is taking it day-by-day. “My injuries are slowly but surely getting better. I still have a few aches and pains but one of these nights soon I’ll be able to sleep on my left side again. Obviously we don’t have a team full of climbers but Dario Cioni and Yaroslav Popovych have their jobs to do and they’ve been resting these last few days, making sure that they’re following wheels and keeping fresh before we get to the Alps. They’re coming around and better and better each day. I’ve also seen the best Mario Aerts I’ve seen in years. He’s been a good friend at every Tour I’ve done and is going to be a valuable asset again in the coming days.
Cadel analyzed his competiton, saying “Yes, CSC has the advantage of numbers but Rabobank don’t have nearly as strong a team as they had last year, so I think Denis [Menchov] will be a little bit on his own. I think the Tour will be decided every day between now and Paris, particularly the Alps and the final time trial. Normally I’m the sort of rider who progresses through three weeks and gets better towards the end, but so too do others. Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov are riding for the same result as me and we haven’t seen the best of them yet.”
Looking forward, Evans explained “It’s better not to take it easy, even on stages like this when there’s not really a lot of jostling in position in the general classification. If you get too relaxed you lose concentration yet for our team today was the optimal situation with the break going early and the sprinters taking this opportunity to go for another stage win. They’re running out of opportunity so I can understand why they worked so hard today. So for us it was a good day.”
How It Happened
158riders took the start in Narbonne at 1:10Pm and right from the first kilometer, two riders, Niki Terpstra (Milram) and FlorentBrard (Cofidis) accelerated and there was not any pursuit, so the duo had gained 9’55’’ after 21km thanks to no chase and a tailwind. Eventually,Française des Jeux and Columbia woke up and after 75km at the feed zone amongthe vineyards of Clermont le Herault, the gap was down to 6’35’’.
With three Cat.4 climbs, Florent Brard crossed first on all, so Maillot Pois Sebastian Lang and his Gerolsteiner teammate Bernard Kohl got little joy today.The relentless chase continued behind the front duo and at Pic-Saint-Loup with56 to go, Terpstra and Brard were only 2’40’’ ahead.
With 30 km to Nimes,Rabobanker Juan-Antonio Flecha counterattacked to take intermediate sprint points along with Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) while Terpstra attacked Brard to go.Terpstra was alone in the front, while Augé to race, the young Dutchman 1’ but only lasted out front for another 10km before he was caught.
Dutch TT champ Stef Clement(BTL) made a move but was quickly pulled back, then French TT champ Sylvain Chavanel (COF) had a go, but came back with 3km to go as the acid-green wave of Team Liquigas was surging on the run-I to Nimes. With 500 meters to go,Cavendish was boxed in, but the compact Manxman fond his way to front and exploded with an incredible sprint to take his 4th stage win of the95th Tour De France.
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The penultimateweekend of Le Tour 2008 departs Nîmes and heads east towards the Alpes deHaute-Provence via Avignon, the vineyards of Chateauneuf-de-Pape and theLuberon valley, via winding, hilly country roads. Attacking riders will goearly to try and gain time before Sunday’s first Alpine climbs, while adangerous counter-attack could go on a late climb. Look for a crafty rider likeCSC-Saxo Bank’s Jensy Voigt to attack on the final Cat.4 climb of Cote del’Orme in the last 10km may take the honors in Digne-les-Bains while thefavorites bide their time until Sunday’s climb of Prato Nevoso.