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Stage 8: The African calling

06/07/2013
The Tour has arrived in the Pyrenees on the same day that Pamplona celebrates its San Fermín Fiestas. In the French race all were singing “Pobre de mi”… all except Chris Froome and the Sky team who gave quite the show at Aix 3 Domaines that left its rivals quaking. The South African, along with help from the incredible Richie Porte, charged the other men down like a great bull and left the goring bodies of Contador, Evans, Schleck and the others completely stunned.
Stage 8: The African calling

Froome was the main favourite to win in Paris following a period of important triumphs but the blow he faced on the first day, which says a lot about how the race will pan out, can be compared to that of Muhammad Ali when leaving his rivals KO. The race is its own mistress and a team that responds well to the challenges it has to offer will always do well. It has been somewhat of a déjà vu because it is exactly what we saw last year with Wiggins and Froome and unless something extraordinary happens history could be about to repeat itself.  The sensation among the peloton is one of depression after the show put on by the Sky team but watch out, because the Tour is long. Very long.

Throughout the rest of the stage, a large role has been played by the Colombian Nairo Quintana, a Young rider with extraordinary talents who holds a brilliant future ahead of him. He attacked early on at the Port de Pailhères, obeying team orders in favour of Valverde which seems to have taken its toll and is beginning to show many things. He is a different rider to those from his country because he rides well against the clock and is extremely competent. He is rider to watch out for during the rest of the race and what more, in the upcoming years of the Tour. For us is has been a somewhat difficult stage but we have nonetheless come forth to be protagonists which, fortunately, seems to be something that is happening quite a bit in this opening week, which makes us very happy indeed. It was a complicated day, and although the team were dealing with scorching heat and lots of people in the streets although perhaps slightly less than there have been in former years, the team manages to keep its pace. Jean Marc Marino has made the run of the day along with three other men for over 100 kilometres now showing off the Sojasun colours and although we realize that the high mountain is not the terrain which we best excel in, we have to fight to the death. And this is exactly what we are doing. Unfortunately Brice Feillu is still struggling with his knee injury but has been able to reach the goal which for us is definitely good news all round. It is such a shame because he is our best climber but of course the most important thing is that he makes a full recovery and saves himself for tomorrow, this resting day will help him recover.

Today has also been a slightly nostalgic day as we look back to some of the most important moments that took place in the Pyrenees with Perico Delgado and Miguel Indurain. Possibly the greatest of such moments was back in the Tour of 1991 when Indurain was riding in yellow for the very first time in Val Louron after attacking Chiappucci in the descent at Tourmalet. This is where the legend began. It was an attack that took everyone by surprise, all except the clever Italian with whom he had fought many a great battle in the history of cycling. The day before saw Luc Leblanc leading the race following a long cavalcade and the Spanish press were quick to criticize our team for not having attacked him sooner. Little did we know that José Miguel Echavarri had it all planned out ready for the Val Louron and let’s just say that the plan worked perfectly. Surprisingly, the squad had not inspected a port that was precedent in the test and we only knew that it wouldn’t be one to worry about. I was in a car in front and was in close contact with the teams coach Echavarri the whole time. I was indicating how the climb looked, information which he then transferred to Miguel Indurain who was headed straight for the lead. I was telling them where the tougher ramps were but he, being clever, knew perfectly what he needed to do. We only wanted to keep him in check so that he wouldn’t be left grasping for energy. The harmony between Indurain and Chiappucci was perfect because both were aware of the spoils of a victory: a yellow jersey for the Navarra rider and era of “the devil”. There was no pact but it is one of those unwritten rules between cyclists, what more Miguel was an extraordinarily generous man whilst at the same time very intelligent. It would not have made sense sprinting with the transalpine because the prize was much greater. When he finished the stage I happened to be with Miguel and never have I seen the man so happy: he had achieved every cyclists dream. He is a man of little words and he normally struggles to show his feelings, but on this day his eyes were gleaming. Val Louron was only the beginning of a spectacular career but also possibly the happiest that he has ever been.

So after looking back at such great memories we regain focus on the stage that awaits us tomorrow. Another Pyrenean day with five ports and many things left unknown after what we have seen today. In theory it is the perfect ground for long getaways, with many climbs but none as tough as the two that we saw this Saturday. The terrain is ideal for the strongest of men although is it not considered dangerous. Thomas Voeckler is definitely a rider to watch out for. The team has been knocked by Sky’s dominating assault and is certainly spurred on to take them down. Contador is a warrier who will no doubt try to checkmate the king Froome and his two kingsmen who at the moment seem to be well placed, for example, Movistar have to move across a bit… unless they wish to settle fighting for the podium. There is a long road ahead of us and even though it seems like an impossible mission, we must all fight. The following day will be for resting and there will be time to recover, albeit little time. The trek may be long: from the arrival today until leaving on Tuesday there are over 100 kilometres to cover which will indeed be exhausting. It includes the stages at Corsica which take its toll as it is a more complicated gala round than those that we have seen in other years which will certainly be felt in the legs of the riders. Let us not forget that there are no excuses: this is the Tour.

This is all friends. Greetings from the heart of the Pyrenees. 
 

 

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