“The ideal Tour would be a Tour in which only one rider survives the ordeal.”
Henri Desgrange (father of the TdF)

  July 2006


By Graham Jones
CyclingRevealed Historian


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CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '06

Stage 9, July 11th, Bordeaux to Dax, 170 km

Homage to Darrigade

Today is the last real sprint fest before the Tour finally gets back near Paris . Almost dead flat, the course traces the Atlantic coast as the Pyrenees loom ever nearer. It is fitting that amongst today's spectators is one of Dax's favorite citizens, Andre Darrigade. Now 77, Darrigade was one of the all time great sprinters of the Tour. He won 22 stages in his 13 completed Tours and won the Green Points Jersey twice. His 15-year career is packed with highly notable performances including the World RR Championship in 1959 and the Tour of Lombardy classic in 1956. He was one of the riders that helped define his generation.

With three stage wins in 1957, this Darrigade sprint was described as 'imperial' . He won by 15m.

In the 1958 Tour (won by Charly Gaul) Darrigade was heading for his sixth stage win on the last stage to Paris . Back then the Tour finished in the now demolished Parc des Princes velodrome. Darrigade entered the velodrome and powered away from Baffi and Graczyk. With 200m to go he looked all set for the win when the General Secretary of the track, Constant Wouters, stepped on to the track. Darrigade slammed into him at full speed. Darrigade escaped with five stitches, Wouters died 11 days later in hospital. This without doubt was the most dramatic stage finish in Tour history.

Today, the usual break got established at km 21. Christian Knees (Milram), Stephane Augé (Cofidis), and Walter Beneteau (Bouygues) settled into their long ride in hot and humid conditions knowing that their chance of success would be very slim. This was the last real flat stage and the sprinters teams would not be allowing any renegade escapes.

Meanwhile as the break toiled away the race entourage was digesting the news made public by Floyd Landis yesterday that he will need a hip replacement operation in the very near future. It seemed strange that he should choose now to reveal his condition considering that he is a primary GC contender. His reasoning was that it was preferable to let the world know with one clear statement rather than have the news leak through the rumor mill.

With 40kms to go the three man break was doing a superb job and was holding the peloton at 4 minutes. Interestingly Robbie McEwen's team was not taking a big role in driving the chase. McEwen's comfortable lead in the Points Competition has changed his team's strategy. It is conceivable that Davitamon-Lotto will not only be aiming for the Green Jersey but also the Yellow Jersey with their man Cadel Evans. Consequently the team domestiques were being told to ‘rest' as much as they could in the depths of the bunch today.

Unlucky 13. At the back of the bunch four riders hit the deck with 13km to go and this was probably the result of desperate bike riding by weaker riders trying to hang on to the elevated pace created by the chase. At 7km to go the break was struggling to hang on to just a 30 second advantage. A bunch sprint was inevitable.

Fast twitch muscles now ruled the race as Dax rapidly approached. The break was brought to heel with 3.5km to go. Liquigas, CSC and Quick.Step led the crazy charge in to town. Boonen was very visible. Was McEwen on his wheel? Boonen exploded out front. In the mayhem behind him McEwen and Friere extracted themselves from the rest. With an incredible maneuver McEwen switched across the road to try and find a way to the front. On the line Friere just managed to hold off McEwen while the luckless World Champion, Boonen, was edged out into fourth place by Erik Zabel. For Oscar Friere this was his second stage win.

Andre Darrigade undoubtedly enjoyed his day at the Tour today. More than most he would have been highly appreciative, and maybe a little nostalgic, of the sight of a tightly packed bunch heading at full speed for the finish line. Maybe he even wondered if, in his prime, he could take on McEwen, Friere, Boonen and co. But old sprinters never die; in his heart he KNOWS full well that he could show these guys his rear wheel any time! Homage to Darrigade.

Tomorrow : The real shake out for the GC begins as the riders taste the first major climbs of this Tour. Cambo les Bains to Pau, 193 km. Come back to CyclingRevealed.com for our daily impression.


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