|Last year’s victory at Paris-Nice must have seemed a very distant memory for Dario Frigo after all that he has been through in the past year, but the Italian made the news for the right reason today when he won at the prestigious Col d’Eze summit.
After a stage-long breakaway featuring Richard Virenque, the impressive Kim Kirchen, the persistent Sylvain Chavanel and new King of the Mountains Vladimir Miholjevic was mostly snuffed out at the foot of the Col d’Eze, the stage came down to a race up the 10km climb. This would have suited race leader Alexandre Vinokourov, who showed on Friday that he’s among the strongest in the hills, and his yellow jersey seemed safe.
But up to now we’d seen little of some of the pre-race favourites, and finally here they were ready to do battle. Frigo went straight on the attack, chasing after the few riders who’d hung on from the break of the day, which had gone after just 3km. Vinokourov struggled to stay in contact with the Italian, but the Kazakh had the consolation of seeing Laurent Jalabert drop away almost immediately.
Frigo pressed on in pursuit of stage leader Dave Bruylandts (Domo), a rider who’s promised a lot and has been tipped as one to watch by team-mate Richard Virenque. It was good to see the Belgian showing his talent on a big stage at last, as it was to see the young guard of Cadel Evans (Mapei), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) and Sandy Casar (FDJ) gamely trying to stay with Frigo while more experienced names foundered.
Evans was the last rider to crack as Frigo surged on, but the Australian hung on to finish second on the stage and move up to 10th overall, which is a pretty phenomenal performance as this is the biggest road event of his career. After unofficially recording the fastest time for the climb up Mont Faron on Friday and astounding his team-mates in the process, Evans is coming of age on the road. He’s scheduled to ride the Ardennes Classics and then prepare for the Giro, where his task will be to assist Stefano Garzelli in the mountains.
But the day was all about Frigo. He looked on the verge of tears as he crossed the line, his reputation to a small extent redeemed after the doping scandals of last season. He too will be looking towards the Giro, although with a certain amount of trepidation no doubt.
Vinokourov came in 42 seconds down on Frigo, but with his advantage increased from 5 seconds last night to 55 seconds tonight. Tomorrow’s stage is a sprinter’s benefit and for the Kazakh the climb up Col d’Eze should be race over.
Stage 6, Saint Raphael-Col D'Eze
1. Dario Frigo (Italy) Tacconi Sport 175km in 4-46-12
2. Cadel Evans (Mapei) at 15
3. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) at 22
4. Inigo Cuesta (Cofidis) at 33
5. Dave Bruylandts (Domo) at 33
6. Joaquim Rodriguez (ONCE) at 42
7. Aitor Garmendia (Team Coast)
8. Sandy Casar (FDJ)
9. Ivan Basso (Fassa Bortolo)
10. Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis)
11. Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom) all st
28. Laurent Jalabert (CSC) at 1-35
64. Bobby Julich (Telekom) at 11-25
67. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) at 15-00
95. Christopher Jenner (Credit Agricole) at 19-45
110. Matthew Wilson (FDJ) at 26-42
111. Baden Cooke (FDJ) st
1. Alexander Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) Telekom 27-00-57
2. Casar at 55
3. Kivilev at 59
4. Jalabert st
5. Garmendia at 1-23
6. Jens Voigt (Crédit Agricole) at 1-38
7. Didier Rous (Bonjour) at 1-40
8. Frigo at 1-44
9. Mario Aerts (Lotto) st
10. Evans at 2-17
74 Jenner at 42-44
80 Julich at 48-20
104 McEwen at 1-15-15
120 Cooke at 1-35-56
125 Wilson at 1-42-08
KoM: Vladimir Miholjevic (Alessio)
Young rider: Casar