Hunter scores best Tour finish, but misses out on win

12th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

JOIGNY, France, July 12, 2007 (AFP) - South Africa's Robert Hunter was hiding his disappointment well after missing out what would have been an historic first stage victory on the Tour de France here Wednesday.

JOIGNY, France, July 12, 2007 (AFP) - South Africa's Robert Hunter was hiding his disappointment well after missing out what would have been an historic first stage victory on the Tour de France here Wednesday.

Hunter is spearheading the Barloworld team's victory bid here, but is doing so in a team which has only one - and at a squeeze two - sprinters who can help lead him out during the hectic bunch sprints for the finish line.

At the end of Wednesday's fourth stage from Villers-Cotterets to here, Norwegian sprinter Thor Hushovd came over the finish inches ahead of the 30-year-old from Johannesburg to end his season's victory drought.

Hushovd, of the Credit Agricole team, claimed his fifth stage win from the race and in doing so relaunched his bid for the Tour de France green jersey he won in 2005.

Hunter meanwhile claimed his best ever stage finish on the Tour, having won his only other stage from a major three-week race at the Tour of Spain in 2001.

He was philosophical in defeat, and said he hoped he could dig out a victory chance from the few remaining stages in which the sprinters are expected to shine.

"I'm happy, I'm very confident at the moment," he said.

"We came here with a team, the majority of which are climbers, so there's not exactly too much help for me in the sprints. It's not like it's affecting my performance at all.

"There's always opportunities. Tomorrow's (Thursday) a hard day and it's possible that the breakaway will go (all the way). It might end up in a sprint, but I think it's a hard day for the sprinters."

With the mountains up ahead - Saturday will be the first of three days in the Alps - there are few opportunities for Hunter to try and beat the likes of Hushovd, Australian Robbie McEwen and Belgium's Tom Boonen.

He seems to have them counted already, and despite already eyeing the final stage to the Champs Elysees in Paris, Hunter suggested he could try and get into a breakaway.

"There's four days to come. At worst, there's Paris. But I'm not only here for that. If possible I'd like to get in a couple of breakaways, and I'll see how it goes for me," he added.

"I know the condition I've got at the moment, and I honestly believe I'm capable of winning a stage."

After Welsh team-mate Geraint Thomas, who is making his race debut, had tried his hardest by driving the bunch sprint at the front in the final kilometre, Hunter simply ran out of space when it came to the final 50 metres.

"I'm a little bit disappointed," he added.

"Thor got the jump on me. I came around the long side on the right, he had about three metres on me and I had to come from that to try and get around him. I ran out of distance.

"But hey, that's the Tour de France. You can't complain. You've just got to look forward to the future."

When it comes to the bunch sprints, Hunter's team is comparatively ill-equipped compared to some of the Pro Tour teams here.

However he refuses to belive he cannnot nail a victory.

"I'm happy with what the guys are doing for me," he said.

"Most of the guys are climbers. I've got one guy, Geraint Thomas, who's a young guy and a sprinter, but it's also not his job to sit on the front for four or five kilometres, he hasn't got that kind of strength.

"But I really can't ask for more. At the end of the day it's for me to sprint and get in the right position, and that's what I'm trying to do."

"I look forward to every day as an opportunity. Once again, today's gone past, but hopefully it will come round again. If it doesn't, that's life.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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