Tuesday 7 July
Stage 4: Cholet-Cholet ITT / 28.9km
Perhaps Stephen Schumacher was thinking of more than just the dream of winning a Tour De France stage and wearing the Maillot Jaune. Schumacher’s Gerolsteiner team is looking hard for a new sponsor to replace mineral water firm Gerolsteiner, but the search has been tough in Germany, where cycling has a bad image after the Jan Ullrich and other doping scandals. Perhaps Schumacher’s win may help turn things around for his team in their sponsorship quest. “I really prepared well for this Tour and gave it my all in the time trial. The course was perfect for me with all the ups and downs. But to win and take the Maillot Jaune was really extra-special for me.”
27 year old Schumacher will turn 28 on July 21st, and the talented rider from Stuttgart has won 31 races during his seven year pro career, including the 2007 Amstel Gold Race, Tour of Poland and Benelux Tour. Today was his first victory in the Tour and the second for his Gerolsteiner team. “Last year was my first Tour, and with all the scandals it got pretty bad, especially when German TV left.”
Luxemburger Kim Kirchen (Columbia) maintained his Maillot Vert of Points leadership with a strong ride, finishing 18” behind the Schumacher train. Kirchen, who has been riding very well at this Tour so far explained post stage that “I’m in great form and I tried to go for the stage win today. I’m satisfied with my ride, even if I didn’t win. We’ll have to see how it goes in the next few stages.” Kirchen’s Columbia team had their best day yet in the Tour De France, with Kirchen second place on gc, 12” behind Schumi. George Hincapie had a superb TT ride for 9th place, while his teammate Tomas Lovquist was 11th and took over the Maillot Blanc of Best Young Rider from Riccardo Ricco’ and the Columbia outfit pulled into 2nd on Team GC.
Still leading Team GC is Garmin-Chipotle, who’s leader Christian Vande Velde had a strong performance today to finish 8th on the stage and move up to 6th on gc, 37” behind Schumacher. “I’m happy with the way I rode today; it was really windy out there today, so it was a bit crazy trying to keep your concentration and not crash. With (Thursdays) mountaintop finish, we’re still in the hunt”. Undoubtedly tired from his big break yesterday, Vande Velde’s teammate Will Frischkorn was 141st on Stage 4 and fell down to 57th on gc. 3’51” behind Schumacher.
Frischkorn’s break companion and Maillot Jaune Romain Feillu had a “jour sans” and lost almost five minutes to Stage winner Schumacher. Still, the likeable young Frenchman enjoyed his 24 hours of glory, saying post stage “it was really sympa today to start the race in the Maillot Jaune, with yellow handlebar tape and a yellow helmet. I heard all the people yelling for me and that was a big motivation. When I saw that Cunego did a good time I was motivated but I didn’t have the legs today”.
How It Happened:
The first rider off in Stage 4’s 29.5km ITT in Cholet started at 11:02am big Wim Vansevenant (SIL) , a two-time ‘Lanterne Rouge (last place rider) at the Tour de France started in on a windy, dry and overcast day. 178 signed-on for todays stage and French rider Christophe Riblon (A2R) was the early fast time, but Dutch TT champ Stef Clement (BTL) powered home with the fast time of 37’18”. Next up was 2001 U23 TT champ Danny Pate (TSL), who had the fastest time checks at 19.5km and 29.5km, but then Sylvain Chavanel (COF) rode his colors of French time trial champion to the fastest time just 2” ahead of Pate.
Next to go into the lead was CSC-Saxo Bank’s Jens Voigt who powered home in 36’19”, but this didn’t last long as a highly motivated Denis Menchov (RAB), who had lost time yesterday, hammered one second ahead of Vogt to take over the lead. Everyone was waiting for Fabian Cancellara to race as the reigning World TT champ was the stage favorite. Superstitious World Champ Cance had his number 13 dossard pinned on upside down to avoid bad luck but it didn’t help the Swiss speedster, as he wasn’t fastest at any intermediate time check but then surged over the final kilometers to beat Menchov’s time with a 36’15”.
But out on the course, Stefan Schumacher of Gerolsteiner was riding like a freight train, with the fastest time checks. Schumi posted 13’54” at 11km in Saint Andre, 24’42” at 19.5km at Les Vignes and then 35’44” at the finish, smashing Cance’s time by 33”. Former Maillot Jaune Valverde tried to limit his damages, with a 23rd place finish, 1’34” behind Schumacher and Valverde is to 17th on gc at 1’27”. However, Damiano Cunego had a surprisingly good ride for 17th place at 1’26” and is now 16th on gc.
With Schumi now in the lead, Tour favorite Cadel Evans (SIL) could ride behind the German’s time splits and put in an excellent performance today in the Stage 4 TT, eventually finishing 5” ahead of the Swiss World TT champ with a 36’10”, but it would only good enough for 4th. However, Evan’s did take time from all his gc rivals. Next into the hot seat was Garmin’s UK TT specialist David Millar finished 9” faster than Cadel, but his second spot didn’t last long as Columbia’s Kim Kirchen rode his new Giant TT bike to the second fastest time, just ahead of Millar.
But Schumi was simply the fastest on the day in Cholet and upset the Tour De France apple cart with his superlative performance against the watch, beating the best time testers in the world for a first career Tour De France stage win and the Maillot Jaune of race leadership to go with it. Alas, Roman Feillu’s Maillot Jaune dream was over after one day as he was 169th, almost 5” (4’59”) to Schumacher and is now 41st.
Wednesday 9 July
Stage 5: Cholet-Châteauroux: 232km
At 232km, Stage 5 is the longest stage of the 95th edition of the Tour de France. Traversing the rolling green farmland south of the Loire River, Stage 5 could be another perfect day for an early break to gain time on the sprinters’ teams and perhaps even stay away until the end. Will it be a beautiful moment for Liquigas star Pippo Pozatto to shine in Châteauroux? Or Credit Agricole’s Viking Thor Hushovd to take another sprint win ahead of old fox Robbie McEwen and young gun Mark Cavendish?