What's Cool In Road Cycling

TDF ’07 St.1: Miracle Man McEwen!

Off the back with 15kms to go after a crash, even Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen commentating for TV didn’t give Robbie McEwen too much of a chance to get on terms by the time the Tour peloton brought Canterbury Cathedral into view. But what the Aussie pocket rocket and his team managed in a little over 15 minutes was nothing short of a miracle.

He was on the very back of the field with just 5kms to go. The Predictor-Lotto guys dragged him into contention and then McEwen, like mist slipping between trees in a forest, emerged at the front and finished things off.

That’s #12 for McEwen at the Tour de France and already a huge boost in his 2007 bid for the Maillot Vert.

Robbie Hunter from Barloworld took advantage of some great work by his team to launch for the line, but tied up 50 metres from the line, swamped as McEwen blasted past.

The Tour de France in England’s south-east has been a massive success – great weather and organisation, and massive, enthusiastic crowds, which should make the mainstream UK media notice how positively it has been received here.

This success is doubly exciting because today is a huge day for sport in the UK – home hero Lewis Hamilton made the podium in the British F1 Grand Prix and the Wimbledon tennis tournament ended with a the top two men (Federer v Nadal) after a predictable amount of rain and woe over the last two weeks.

Is it possible for the Tour to roll out in finer fashion? Nope.

Things started from the gun with an Agritubel rider flying out of the peloton approximately 3 nanoseconds after Christian Prudhomme waved his flag for the official start.

That went nowhere, but moments later, the home fans were roaring even louder as David Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir) took flight after only 10kms. The reformed Millar set off on a real mission and the gap widened dramatically as he used his TT skills. It was a statement of intent from the man who missed the top 10 in the prologue, wanting to show himself as clean and proud to be.

The four riders who chased him (Auge of Cofidis initially, followed by Kuchynski of Liquigas, Milram’s Andriy Grivko and Frenchman Freddy Bichot from Agritubel) only caught Millar because he sat up to wait for them around the 50km mark.

Until then, they were getting nowhere near him as the peloton disappeared over 5 minutes behind the Scot. Once they were together, it still seemed to be Millar doing the most work – but there’s a fine balance to be struck between being effective and having an effect on your companions, as Freddy Bichot looked to struggle every time Millar opened the throttle at the front.

David Millar didn’t win the Prologue yesterday, but apparently that just got him more fired up – so drove the break for most of the day, and received the Dots as just reward.

Ultimately, it was Millar and Grivko who succumbed, caught at 45 kms to go. 10kms further up the road saw Kuchynski and Bichot back in the fold as Auge ploughed on alone.

The day was a success on many levels for Millar. A great day out in front of the UK fans, a great opener for the legs and, most importantly, he becomes only the second Scot in history to haul on the polka dot jersey. He took the first KOM points, then got on front of the peloton as they trailed Auge over the final climb – good tactics from Saunier Duval, or a favour from the peloton for a Brit on home soil?

This is about where Johan Van Summeren realized that it was going to be a very long three weeks.

A demoralised and exhausted Auge ran out of gas over the final KOM hill of the day, and the look on his face as he heard over the radio that Millar had grabbed the second batch of points behind him said everything – pain and despair at ‘wasted’ effort. QuickStep swept him up, working for Boonen.

Robbie Mac was nothing but overjoyed over one his best wins ever.

At the same moment, at the back, another home favourite was in trouble. A tangle of wheels took out Mark Cavendish, who struggled to get going following not one, not two but THREE bike changes.

McEwen came down in the same crash, and was looking pretty sore as a big chase group driven by Predictor-Lotto tried to pull him back to the leaders powered by QuickStep and Lampre with Gerolsteiner hovering.

At the finish, McEwen was jubilant: “(This is) one of my best wins ever. I didn’t feel that great all day, and I crashed. Somebody crashed into me from behind, and I flipped over the handlebars … I can’t believe I won. The moment I crashed, I thought ‘That’s that’, my Tour’s over. (It was) frustration, anger and nothing else to lose (that helped me). This is the perfect way to pay back my boys”, he said speaking especially of Van Summeren and Vansevenant.

David Millar was tired but happy, too: “Thanks to the British public. I rode out of my skin today. This is a thank you to everyone who came out to watch today.”

He added: ”Early this morning, it dawned on me that I had to do something for the people who supported me yesterday. Everybody was crazy about me, and this is my way of say thanks. Iґd made the decision of launching an early attack, but had told no-one about it. When I broke away, the only thing I could see was that I was riding fast, so I said to myself, “Go ahead!” When my lead was five minutes, I waited on the quartet chasing after me. In the final part of the race, it became more difficult, but my team did a great job, using a very smart strategy. Grabbing the jersey wasnґt one of my goals, it just happened. To me, the only important thing was putting up a good show for my fans and followers. I think it happens once in a lifetime only, with such huge enthusiastic crowds lining the roads. It surprised us all, even me. Now, my aim is keeping the KOM jersey on my shoulders. And I believe that, if things go well, Iґll be able to wear it at least until we come to the Alps”.

Right where he wants to be after only one stage.

McEwen takes the green jersey after his win; Cancellara stays in yellow; Gusev stays in white. And, of course, Millar grabs the polka dots.

The Tour crosses the channel tomorrow, onto more familiar roads. Keep it PEZ for the very best coverage!

Tour de France Stage 1 results London – Canterbury, 203kms

1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Predictor-Lotto 4hrs 39’ 01”
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole
3 Tom Boonen (Bel) QuickStep
4 Sebastien Chavenel (Fra) Cofidis
5 Roman Feilliu (Fra) Agritubel
6 Robert Forster (Ger) Gerolsteiner
7 Oscar Friere (Spa) Rabobank
8 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) T-Mobile
9 Francisco Ventoso (Spa) Saunier Duval
10 Tomas Vaitkus (Lit) Discovery Channel all same time

Tour de France Overall Classification After Stage 1

1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) CSC 4hrs 47’ 52”
2 Andreas Kloeden (Ger) Astana + 13”
3 David Millar (GB) Saunier Duval + 21”
4 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel + 23”
5 Bradley Wiggins (GB) Cofidis + 23”
6 Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Discovery Channel + 25”
7 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d’Epargne + 26”
8 Thor Hushovd (Nor ) Credit Agricole + 29”
9 Alexandre Vinolourov (Kaz) Astana + 30”
10 Thomas Dekker (Ned) Rabobank + 31”

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