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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."