Cycling: Cancellara protects yellow jersey in style

11th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

COMPIEGNE, France, July 10, 2007 (AFP) - Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara reinforced his grip of the Tour de France yellow jersey with a stunning display of power which won him the third stage here on Tuesday.

COMPIEGNE, France, July 10, 2007 (AFP) - Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara reinforced his grip of the Tour de France yellow jersey with a stunning display of power which won him the third stage here on Tuesday.

CSC's world time trial champion took the longest stage of the race, a 236.5km run between Waregem in Belgium and Compiegne, from Germany's Erik Zabel and Danilo Napolitano with a finish that left even his own team surprised.

Cancellara, the winner of Saturday's opening prologue, was helping to drive the peloton's desperate last-minute chase of a four-man breakaway which only capitulated inside the closing kilometre.

As the four realised their bid was doomed, the yellow jersey appeared from the melee and after looking over his shoulder once, he went for broke.

The 26-year-old waited until shortly after the red flag - signalling one kilometre to go - before pulling ahead of the earlier stage leaders and starting his drive for the line.

It was an audacious move for a non-sprinter, and despite Australian Robbie McEwen and Belgian Tom Boonen driving hard in the closing 100 metres Cancellara held on to win in style.

"That was the hardest last kilometre of my life," Cancellara said.

His win could force CSC into spending precious energy on Wednesday, but his performance will go down as one of the most remarkable stage wins in years.

The big Swiss racer, who has no pretensions on winning the race overall, has now boosted his overnight lead of 13secs over Astana's Andreas Kloden to 33.

Britain's David Millar is lying third at 41, although the Saunier Duval rider gave up the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey to Frenchman Stephane Auge of Cofidis.

Even Millar could not believe Cancellara's feat: "It was incredible," said the big Scot.

It was a tense finale which had seen the four leaders' advantage drop from a minute with seven kilometres to go to 29secs three kilometres further on.

And Cancellara's win surprised even his own team.

"He pulled a rabbit out of the hat there!" Stuart O'Grady told AFP, stunned at the audacity of his teammate.

Cancellara admitted that all he had been thinking about was making sure he kept the jersey on his shoulders for another day.

"All I thought about was being in the best possible position at the end," he said.

"If you're in a good position you can do a good sprint. I looked to see who was to my left and right, I don't know where I attacked from. But you can't plan for anything like that. Today it just all fell into place.

"To win in this way, at Compiegne where the Paris-Roubaix begins, is 'perfect' - there's no other word to describe it," added Cancellara, who won the Paris-Roubaix race two years ago.

Quick Step's Tom Boonen was among the sprinters who admitted they'd got their sums wrong.

"When we got to the finale where we should have been getting the bunch sprint organised, we were all just too tired from the chase," said the Belgian, who now leads Robbie McEwen by four points in the green jersey's points classification.

"When I saw I wasn't going to win I stuck to McEwen's wheel to try and get some points for the green jersey."

Zabel did well to finish second, but said Cancellara had made the difference on the 200 metres of cobbled section leading into the final kilometre.

"That was where Cancellara took a decisive lead on the rest of us," said the 37-year-old German. "Congratulations to him, but it's a pity for our team."

After the drama of Monday's massive pile-up in Ghent it seemed that few riders were motivated to race, in the proper sense, until they really had to.

After a rather lethargic 170km of riding, the peloton was gradually shunted into action over the closing 40km in a bid to deprive a four-man break from going all the way.

French duo Nicolas Vogondy and Mathieu Ladagnous had gone on the attack early and built a sizeable lead. They were later joined by another Frenchman, Stephane Auge, after he had forged ahead to take the points on the day's only climb to take Millar's polka dot jersey.

Cofidis's Auge was soon joined by Liquigas rider Frederik Willems, and over the next 10km they caught Ladagnous and Vogondy.

The peloton soon awoke, and over the remainder of the race the teams with a vested interest in the stage - and the yellow jersey - were launched in hot pursuit.

In the end it worked, but those who had been part of it all will remember it for a long time.

"I've never seen anything like that in my 11 Tours de France," added O'Grady, who had tailed off the front five kilometres before Cancellara had begun his drive for the finish.

"We tried to get it (chase) going earlier, but in a day when everyone's riding along so slow for so long, everyone's hurting, nobody wants to waste any energy and there's bluffing between the other guys.

"In the end it comes down to seconds."

Copyright AFP

SUbject: French news

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