Tour de France – Team News Stage 18
T-Mobile: a better day, CSC, Basso on song, Roberts singing, Liberty Seguros, Serrano - the Man from the Mountains Echoes Jalabert
T-Mobile, who were definitely in the dumps yesterday, are more optimistic tonight after a good day's racing which saw them re-take the lead in the Team Competition and Ullrich stay with the top group and put time into Rasmussen. They report -
Spain's Marcos Serrano dug deep on the vicious final climb to pull clear of a 10-man breakaway to win stage 18 of the Tour de France today. Serrano had been part of a break, also including Matthias Kessler, Axel Merckx and Thomas Voeckler, which jumped clear after just an hour of racing. T-Mobile captain Jan Ullrich was more than satisfied with his day´s work after taking 37" out of Michael Rasmussen reducing the gap to 2´ 12" on the GC third-placed rider.
T-Mobile sporting manager, Mario Kummer: "Now every second counts. With 37 seconds, Jan has made some valuable time on Rasmussen. I already said yesterday that we must save a bit of our strength for the end of the Tour. We figured in every break. In the end Matthias has brought us back to the top of the team classification. Lance and all the other podium candidates rode flat out. That was a real test of strength."
Following a frantic start, T-Mobile´s Mathias Kessler managed to get himself into the leading group of ten riders who broke free at the km 45 mark. With no 'Disco boys' in the break, Kessler´s ride was crucial for the team, putting it back ahead in the team points competition. T-Mobile had been trailing Discovery by just 37". The escapees continued to build on their lead maxing at 15´20" as the peloton had 25km to cover. Working well together, no rider shirked his duties at the front.
Only with 13km to go did Da Cruz decide to upset the cosy consensus, shooting off the front. The response came from Axel Merckx, who blazed after the FDJ rider, followed by a renewed Thomas Voeckler. Da Cruz was quickly dropped but Zandio, Serrano, Pellizotti and Vasseur caught up. As had been widely anticipated, the final climb, the category 2 Cote de la Croix-Neuve, which hits a severe gradient of 11% in parts decided the stage. It was the acknowledged climber of the group, Serrano, who broke clear and hung on over the final few hundred metres to take victory, with Vasseur second, just pipping Merckx.
It was in the group behind though, that the crucial GC battle was playing itself out. Discovery had upped the pace, shattering the peloton. With 3km to go, Basso attacked, prompting a hot pursuit from the elite squad of Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and Cadel Evans. Vinokourov and, crucially for Ullrich, Rasmussen, couldn´t live with the pace. Ullrich, known to climb better on lesser gradients managed to hang on at the back despite falling back seven or eight metres at different sections. The group built up a gap back to Rasmussen, which hovered around the 35" mark. At the finish, Ullrich came in with Armstrong, Evans and Basso, 37" ahead of his Danish GC rival and hitherto ever-present shadow.
Afterwards, the T-Mobile captain expressed his satisfaction with the day - "We´d a better day than yesterday. There were no Discovery riders in the break with Kessler. While I don´t expect to make time on Armstrong and Basso, I did need to gain time on Rasmussen. I´m pleased." The T-Mobile Team will be hoping for a similar show of strength in tomorrow´s stage from Issoire to Le Puy en Velay.
Team CSC were naturally very pleased with the battling effort of Ivan Basso, who made one last big effort to distance himself from his rivals on the climbs. Also in the spotlight today was Luke Roberts who featured in the escape. Team CSC report -
In Thursday's stage 18 of the Tour de France, Team CSC's Ivan Basso once again tried to gain time on Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel). Although Basso was able to split the peloton on the steep category-2 climb just before the finish, he did not manage to drop Armstrong.
The 189-kilometer stage from Albi to Mendi was dominated by a long break, with among others Team CSC's Australian Tour debutant Luke Roberts.
"We tried to get Bobby or Carlos in a break, but that didn't work, so I went off, even though it might have been better for the team, if one of those two had gotten away," said a modest Roberts after his seventh place in today's stage, 1.28 after the winner Marcos Serrano (Liberty Seguros).
"The finish wasn't really Luke's cup of tea, but you never know what could happen, so it was fine for him to be up front. We tried to put the peloton under pressure on the penultimate climb, and then the plan was for Basso to attack again at the end. We did succeed in making a difference and it's great to see Ivan on the offense," said Bjarne Riis.
In the peloton it was only Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and Cadel Evans who were able to keep up with Ivan Basso on that last climb, while Michael Rasmussen lost 37 seconds to the foursome.
"I gave everything I had on the final climb, as it's probably the last mountain with any significance in this year's Tour de France," said Ivan Basso, who is still 2.46 behind Armstrong in the general classification, but now a full minute ahead of Rasmussen in third place.
Marcos Serrano won the most symbolic stage for Liberty Seguros-Würth in this Tour de France, since the finish in Mende was won here 10 years ago by Laurent Jalabert's victory in 1995, for the ONCE team that challenged Miguel Indurain.
The circumstances were today very different, but Manolo Saiz had pointed this day in the calendar and was dreaming of repeating that exploit. Liberty Seguros-Würth went out with more motivation to be in the break.
Marcos Serrano, who, on Stage 16, had been in the break with Óscar Pereiro, but had lost his chance by poor descending on the Aubisque, today made no mistakes and used his experience to beat his difficult rivals.
Marcos Serrano began his professional career with Kelme, and was Álvaro Pino's protégé, both men being Galician. In his first years he stood out for his ability as a climber and his qualities in big tours. In 1997 he finish eighth both in Giro and Vuelta, and in Italy was second in a stage that he should have won, but for inexperience. He has always been a team rider, and a very solid man against the clock, though in his last seasons with Manolo Sáiz he has centred on working more for his leaders, while still managing to gain the occasional out-standing victory, such as Milán-Turín, and many places of honour in big classics. After Óscar Pereiro, Serrano is the second Galician rider to win a stage in this year's Tour de France.
"As a team we have shown real commitment to overcome this bad Tour. It has not been a good Tour for us our for us, we came to fight for the general classification because we have great Leaders, but that has not gone well.
"With this victory we have atoned our disappointment, because this is a Team Victory. Liberty Seguros-Würth is a Team that should be fighting for the General Clasification, and this win does not shadow that fact.
"Today I used all my experience and skils gained over the years, because the finish was like a Classic Race.
"Manolo Saiz reminded us in the bus today the victory of Jalabert and ONCE ten years ago. He likes so much to remember these things and he said to us that it was very difficult to repeat, but that the stage was good for us and that we should look for the victory.
"Heras, Contador and I were told to try and get in the break because we are the most explosive and this finish was good for us. To win in the same place that Jalabert did makes me proud, because also I won Milán-Turín, like Jalabert, so somehow I am repeating some of his victories.
"I have worked very much like a domestique because I think that is right when there are better riders in the Team . But in the team everybody knows my characteristics and because of that I can do more things than just work for the team".