Saturday 5 July / Tour De France Stage 1: Brest–Plumelec / 197.5km
Any young cyclist who dreams of winning a Tour De France stage and grabbing the Maillot Jaune will forever envy the day Caisse d’Epargne’s Alejandro Valverde enjoyed today in Plumelec. Valverde had already won a Tour De France stage three years ago in Courchevel, just ahead of Lance Armstrong, but today his dream of a lifetime came true atop the Cote de Cadoudal in Plumelec when the Spanish champion powered to a brilliant win to capture the first Maillot Jaune of the 95th Tour De France.“This was the best possible result” a delighted Valverde gushed after Stage 1. “My team worked really well for me today.”
Valverde’s success in Plumelec comes in a year that is already fantastic sports year for Spain with the European Cup football championships and with big wins on the tennis court from Rafael Nadal. But with three weeks to go to the Tour finish in Paris, Valverde was confident and didn’t seem too concerned that he had taken over the Tour lead too early. “Well it’s not too soon to take over the Maillot Jaune…in fact, it’s very good for the team. Now we’ll try to keep it for a while. But today was only the first stage and there is a long way to go to Paris.” Although Valverde may let the Maillot Jaune go in the next few en-ligne stages, next Tuesday’s 29.5km ITT in Cholet may see the talented man from Murcia re-capture the Tour lead. Winner of a tough time test in the recent Dauphine’ Libere’, Valverde is now a rider to be reckoned with against the watch. “I have worked hard on my time trialing”, explained new Maillot Jaune Valverde. “Once it was not my best (skill) but my recent win in the Dauphine’ shows I can time trial well.”
In today’s action-packed uphill finish, Valverde clearly showed he is one of the fittest riders in the race, as he majestically blew by Fleche Wallone winner Kim Kirchen (Team Columbia) with 150m. to go on a sweeping righthand bend to take command. Saunier Duval-Scott’s Giro d’Italia runner-up Ricardo Ricco’ was 5th today, just ahead of Tour De France favorite Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto). Ricco’ earned the Maillot Blanc of the Tour’s Best Young Rider and showed he may be a force to be reckoned with in upcoming climbing stages of this year’s Tour.
“I’m happy the way things went today”, explained Ricco’. “It’s my second Tour De France and this time I hope to do well in the mountains. This is my first race since the Giro d’Italia. I got blocked in a bit with 500m. to go…my first real goal is Stage 6. I’m really determined to win a stage at the Tour this year.”
How It Happened:
180 riders started Stage One, 197.5km from Brest to Plumelec at 12.29pm. It was a cool 60 degree Saturday with strong southwest winds of change blowing through the Goulet de Brest on the 95th Tour De France peloton. For the first time in over a decade, Le Tour would start without a prologue time trial or Maillot Jaune, or time bonuses awarded at the stage finishes. Also missing from the race was defending champion Alberto Contador, who’s new Astana team was not invited to this year’s Tour.
As the race passed over the Albert Louppe Bridge and headed up the long drag of the D.3 road towards Le Faoy, the first attack of the 2008 Tour came from 32 year old rider Lilian Jegou (FDJ), who was was joined by Perez (EUS), Voeckler (BTL), Schroder (MRM), De La Fuente (SDV), Arrieta (ALM), Lequatre (AGR), and Auge (COF). At 10km, the escapees advantage was 2’20” the peloton was content to let the audacious eight cruise ahead.
At the summit of the first Cat. 4 KOM of the cote de Ty-Jopic after 29.5km, the break had gained their maximum advantage of the day at 8’15”. Schroder took the KOM ahead of Voeckler, while behind, the big lead rang alarm bells Liquigas, Credit Agricole, Rabobank and Caisse d’Epargne who cranked up the chase pace. The average speed for the first hour was 43.1km/h.
By the second KOM on the cote de Kerivarc’h after 48.5km, the peloton was at now at 6’55” but by the col de Toullaeron after 85.5km, the chase had pulled back almost 4’ in 50km and the escape had a lead of 4’55”. The average speed for the second hour was 40.4km/hr as the pace slowed over the hilly, twisting roads of the Black Mountains of central Brittany.
Back in the peloton with 100km to go at the fez zone, an unfortunate Herve’ Duclos-Lassalle (COF), son of two-time Paris-Roubaix winner Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, crashed hard, busted his left wrist an thus became the first rider to abandon the 2008 Tour. Under scudding clouds and a still strong southwest wind, the third hour of Stage 1 was raced at a speedy average of 42.5km/hr, but the lead of the eight frontmen slowly diminished under the impulsion of the chasing pelton and with 50km to go in the tiny hamlet of Port-Arthur, the escape had 3’.
Atop the final categorized ascent of Stage 1, the cote de Guenerve after 146.5km, Spanish climber De La Fuente bested Schroder and Voeckler. The latter two were now equal on KOM points, so the best placed in stage one finish would be awarded the Maillot Pois jersey of Best Climber in Plumelec. Back in the peloton with 55km to go in Castennec, a crash dumped Popovych, Chavanel, Jimmy Casper, Frank Schleck, Fabien Wegmann and other riders, but they all came back to the group over the next 10km.
Up front in the break at the third sprint in Remungol after 157km, Lequatre, Perez and Jegou claimed the points and were 2’00” ahead of the peloton. Then with 36km to Plumelec, the break riders began to attack each other and eventually with 30km to go near Bignan, Jegou and De La Fuente had gapped the other six, who sat up and were reabsorbd by the on-rushing peloton with 26km to race. Jegou and De La Fuente insisted up front, with the Jegou, a 32 year old Breton from Nantes, doing the lions share of the work but were reabsorbed with 7km to race.
Back in the nervous peloton, there was a crash with 10km to go on the outskirts of Plumelec that took down a dozen riders, with the principle victim being Barloworld’s ace climber Mauricio Soler, Maillot Pois winner in the 2007 Tour De France. Soler eventually finished Stage One three minutes behind with bruised left wrist and scrapes and bruises on his left side. The frantic run-in to Plumelec was dominated Columbia as they tried to set-up Kirchen for the win on the tough final climb of the cote de Cadoudal. With 1km to go, Gerolsteiner’s Stefan Schumacher made a bid for glory but he went too soon.
Kirchen surged next, but behind the Luxemburger, the inexorable progression of Valverde rode Kirchen down and put the Spaniard in the first Maillot Jaune of the 2008 Tour de France. Right behind Valverde was Belgian Philippe Gilbert (FDJ), followed by French rider Jerome Pineau. Kirchen hung on for fourth, with Ricco’ coming home a strong fifth, just ahead of 2007 Tour runner-up Cadel Evans. Voeckler captured the Maillot Pois while Jegou was named the Most Combative Rider on Stage 1.
Sunday 6 July
Stage 2: Auray–Saint-Brieuc—164.5km
Stage 2 will be a short, nervous stage across the hilly roads of central Brittany, featuring a steep climb up the Mur de Bretagne hill and a finish in the fishing port of Saint-Brieuc. Attackers will try
and resist the onslaught of the sprinters’ teams for the win, with Liquigas rider Filippo Pozzato looking to repeat his win here. But Sunday’s weather report is for cool, rainy skies which may allow a break to stay away to the finish.
Photos By Roberto Bettini