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Belgians on stage 15: a great ride from both Aerts and Merck
By Celine Tytgadt
Date: 7/23/2002
Belgians on stage 15: a great ride from both Aerts and Merck
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It was a great day for the Belgians as 'we' finished second and third in the 15th stage of the Tour de France.  For a long time, it seemed as if the Belgian riders in the break (Mario Aerts and Axel Merckx) had a good chance of winning the stage, but one Columbian rider spoiled the fun.  Botero attacked, Merckx responded, but couldn't get to Botero's wheel.  Aerts didn't make any effort to chase Botero and climbed steadily at his own pace.  Aerts finished 2nd and Merckx 3rd.  Axel lost too much power trying to catch Botero that he needed to pay for it in the end and Aerts overtook him in the end.
Mario Aerts after his great result today: "I didn't try to join Botero in the attack because I knew I didn't feel good enough.  I didn't have the power for that.  It's not a very steep climb, but ideally suited for Botero.  You need to climb it on power.  I'll try to stay as quiet as possible tomorrow and after that there are still two more stages where I can try something."
The press has had quite some critic on Mario as he is supposed to be lazy, he doesn't earn his pay, etc.... but today he proved them wrong (as did he after winning Fleche Wallonne earlier this year) by ending 2nd in a mountain stage in the tour.  "I think I'd better focus on these kind of things.  I'm always bad in the first few mountain stages, that's why I'm not interested in the GC, that's why I was sitting in the bus then.  This means, I will have to go over some of the mountains by sitting in the bus and therefor probably get lots of criticism from the press as I am supposed to be a climber.  But that's the only thing I can do if I want to achieve my goals.  And these are winning a stage and just go for that.  Ignore all the rest.  It's better to finish 2nd in a stage like this than to finish 40th when we get to Paris."
Aerts continues: "In the beginning it was very difficult to get away.  I needed to try a lot of times, then we got Botero and a few others.  Well, I noticed quite quickly that Botero was very strong.  I tried to attack on the last climb to test the others, but Botero countered and jumped right passed me.  When Botero was gone, I hoped that Axel Merckx was going to get too tired to keep up the pace and that's what happened.  I have been riding very souple but I can't do that every day.  I will try again in this Tour, but the problem is getting away from the peloton.  I'm definitely sure that my legs are going to hurt tomorrow.  I hope I can find myself a good bus."
Axel Merckx, the other Belgian in the breakaway today, also got his chance to talk to the Belgian Radio 1 after the race: "Botero has proved enough: he got the KOM jersey before and he can time trial.  It's not a shame to finish behind Botero.  Ok, it didn't work today, but better luck next time."
The question Axel received oh so many times is the one that gets him a little upset: the classification.  "How many times have I told you that I'm not going for the classification?  If you're going for the GC, then you don't kill yourself in attacks like I did today."  But, he calms down again.  "I don't know how I will recuperate tomorrow, it could even be that I am soo tired tomorrow that I need to go homw, but at least I tried and didn't do too bad.  These are the stages that suit me best.  It's on these kind of days that I have to try and not on the Mont Ventoux like Sunday.  I know what I can and can not do.  I need to take my chance with the possibilities I have."
As it was a long mountain stage, there were a lot of points for the KOM up for grabs and Axel Merckx passed over each of them first.  "I needed to grab some points because if Botero takes them he could threaten Virenque for the King of Mountain classification.  I didn't really loose any energy there that might have helped me on the last climb, because nobody was really trying.  And if I can help Virenque this way then even better."

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