For the second time in a week, Rabobank will be having another party
bill to pay for. Oscar Freire was the Prince of Verona last week, but today’s
hero was Erik Dekker, who not only rode himself into the record books as the
winner of the 98th edition of the race, but also into cycling legend.
It was a cold grey start to the race at Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines. The
slight wind had a nagging touch of winter, and Erik Dekker, in his 13th year
as a professional, knew full well what his job for the day was. With Rabobank team mate Oscar Freire red hot favourite, the team needed someone in
the break of the day to save themselves the work of chasing down. The Dutch
Champion was quick to join an early break of 16 riders after 25 kilometres
of racing. Four riders made a selection, Vladimir Gussev (Team CSC), Manuel
Quinziato (Lampre), Bram Tankink (Quick Step-Davitamon) and Erik Dekker, who
were to lead the race until the closing stages.
Eric Berthou (RAGT Semences-MG Rover) managed to bridge the gap to the
escapees but then punctured and found himself back in the bunch. An episode
which somehow summed up the RAGT Semences-MG Rover season.
The peloton, driven along by Cofidis and Quickstep, kept the escapees
nicely in sight and with 30 km to go the gap was under 2 minutes and
dropping fast. Dekker pulled on his reserves and experience and attacked
again. An old trick, the idea being when the peloton reach the rest of the
break it will take a few vital moments to realise that one of its members
had already left the roost. Of course, whether the team DS’s should be
allowed radio-contact with the riders or not is a matter of great debate
and opinion. As the rest of the break was swept up, Vladimir Gusev (CSC)
was the only rider strong enough to join Dekker, and the two men forged on.
Dekker was quite simply superb. He charged for home and refused to
discouraged by the slender lead. With 8 kilometres to go the duo had just 26
seconds advantage, but valiant Vladimir of CSC finally hit the wall and he
too was swept up.
Astarloa then attacked the peloton which was disrupted by a crash on a
sharp corner. The confusion allowed Igor Astarloa (Lampre), Allan Davis
(Liberty Seguros), Juan-Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) and Matthias Kessler
(T-Mobile) get a small gap on the peloton. Incredibly, Dekker refused to lose
the passing wheels and rather being swallowed up in the peloton he fought
back onto the four new leaders' wheels.
With 5 kilometres to go, the leading 5 men had just 10 seconds advantage
on the peloton, being driven along, ironically enough by the Rabobank team,
who must have thought Dekker would have no chance with 4 fresher rivals.
Dekker, however, thought different. As they charged for the line it was Dekker’s fellow escapees who tired first. Flecha, Astarloa and Davis were
caught but Dekker quite simply refused to give up. Kessler held onto his
wheel until under the Flamme Rouge. With 500 metres to go Dekker made one
final last effort which pulled him away from Kessler and, unbelievably, over
the finishing line.
It was without doubt one of the season's best solo efforts, but in the
mass sprint behind yet more drama was unfurling. Paolo Bettini finished in
5th spot while Rebellin came home in thirteenth spot. The Cricket now has 13
points advantage over Tin Tin and the last ever World Cup will be decided
amongst the falling leaves of Lombardy.
Those great riders will have their triumphs or tragedies next weekend,
but Paris Tours and the fans who lined the avenue de Grammont 2004 will
remember Erik Dekker and his magnificent adventure.
What They Said
Erik Dekker: "When did I think I could win the race. At 500 metres,
I still wasn’t sure, in fact I wasn’t really sure if I would win at 100 metres, that makes it even more special. Even my team were chasing me
(laughs) – but now I have a better appreciation of what Virenque did. I was
injured for about two years and my dream was to win a World Cup classic or a
stage in the Tour de France to wipe out those bad times. For me, today was
Paolo Bettini: "I finished sixth, which was good, but I was boxed in
when I tried to grab Freire's wheel in the sprint so I couldn’t really go
for the sprint. The main thing is I took back the jersey of World Cup
leader. The overall will be decided at Lombardia. It's close on points, but
Rebellin is going to have to attack me if he wants to win it.”
Alain Gallopin (CSC DS): "After Gusev having been up front, Lars
Michaelsen seemed our best
bet for the sprint. Unfortunately he was involved in the crash at
the end, and that put a stop to us getting a result today. He
would've been a good candidate for a spot among the top 10. Gusev
was the last one from the original break who was able to follow Dekker, and he deserves big credit for his efforts.”
Frans van Looy (T Mobile DS)"I have never witnessed such an exciting race", said T-Mobile Team's sports manager Frans van Looy, straight after the nail-biting race in Tours. "It is real pity that 'Matse' Kessler couldn't hang in there in the end. It was a super ride by him. But Dekker also deserves our praise for the manner of his victory: anyone who spends that much time at the front, and yet sill has the legs to attack and win, then their win is thoroughly deserved", said van Looy.
1. Erik Dekker (PBS, Rabobank) 252,5 km in 5h33'03" (45,5 km/h)
2. Danilo Hondo (ALL, Gerolsteiner) m.t.
3. Oscar Freire (ESP, Rabobank) m.t.
4. Allan Davis (AUS, Liberty Seguros) m.t.
5. Stuart O'Grady (AUS, Cofidis) m.t.
6. Paolo Bettini (ITA, Quick Step-Davitamon) m.t.
7. Matthias Kessler (ALL, T-Mobile) m.t.
8. Uros Murn (SLO, Phonak Hearing Systems) m.t.
9. Jaan Kirsipuu (EST, Ag2r Prévoyance) m.t.
10. Eddy Mazzoleni (ITA, Team Saeco) m.t.
World Cup Round 9
1. Paolo Bettini (ITA, Quick Step-Davitamon) 340 pts
2. Davide Rebellin (ARG, Gerolsteiner) 327 pts
3. Oscar Freire (ESP, Rabobank) 252 pts
4. Erik Dekker (PBS, Rabobank) 237 pts
5. Stuart O'Grady (AUS, Cofidis) 186 pts
6. Juan-Antonio Flecha (ESP, Fassa Bortolo) 140 pts
7. Steffen Wesemann (ALL, T-Mobile) 131 pts
8. Erik Zabel (ALL, T-Mobile) 108 pts
9. Peter Van Petegem (BEL, Lotto-Domo) 105 pts
10. Igor Astarloa (ITA, Lampre) 96 pts
A happy Chris Horner before the start today, in his new Saunier
Duval team colors and back racing in Europe. Photo ©