Cycling: Wauters grateful for team support

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The Independent Online
AFTER MORE than 28 hours of racing spread over six days, only two seconds separated the first two riders in the Prutour, which finished in Edinburgh on Saturday.

The final wearer of the red jersey of leadership was Marc Wauters, a 30-year-old Belgian whose career has prospered since he joined the Dutch Rabobank team. A journeyman professional, his best performances prior to the Prutour were seventh place in the 1998 World Championship road race and fifth overall in this year's Paris to Nice race. "This has been one of the best performances of my career," Wauters said at Edinburgh. "Most of the time my job is to work for the other riders in the team but in this race they worked for me."

The runner-up, Benoit Joachim, was the other revelation of the race. A first-year professional with US Postal Service, he surprised even his own team-mates by taking the leader's jersey with an epic lone attack on the decisive third stage to Bristol.

But US Postal's teamwork went awry on stage six when Joachim was left stranded in the main pack while rival Rabobank riders worked flat out to ensure Wauters collected sufficient sprint bonuses to take the overall lead. It left the Belgian with a two-seconds' advantage to defend on the tough final day.

It opened with a 92-mile stage from Carlisle to Edinburgh, won by Britain's Rob Hayles in a photo-finish with Australia's Stuart O'Grady. The riders then tackled 40 laps of a hilly circuit based on Princes Street.

It should have been a spectacular finale but the party was spoiled by a day-long downpour. Any high-speed attacks would have come to grief on the greasy descent.

A large crowd had braved the conditions and the professionals put on a good show; however an unofficial truce ensured the top placings remained unchanged.

"Two seconds' lead may not have been much, but if I'd taken any risks I'd have ended with nothing," Wauters said.

The circuit race ended in a mass sprint won by New Zealander Julian Dean - his second stage success of the race.

The victors in the other stages were Leon Van Bon of Holland, George Hincapie of America, Benoit Joachim of Luxembourg, Raimondas Rumsas of Lithuania, Stuart O'Grady of Australia, and Britain's Rob Hayles and Chris Boardman.

The time-trial stage gave Boardman a rare chance to compete in his best event on British roads. He duly won the 4.2-mile test at Portsmouth and rose to third overall.

It was all downhill from there for Boardman. A startled sheep brought him crashing to the ground on stage six. He finished the stage but pulled out the rain-soaked circuit race next day.

At 30, Boardman limits his ambitions to winning time trials, which means that Britain must look elsewhere for a home winner in the Prutour. It could be Chris Newton who, at 12th overall, was the best-placed home rider. But Newton is already 25, and we may have to wait for the next generation, represented by the world junior pursuit champion, Bradley Wiggins.

Only 74 of the 108 starters completed the course, including Wiggins who, at 19, was the youngest in the race. "This boy is something special," enthused the British team manager, John Herety. "He rode within himself all the way and just lapped up the atmosphere."

In its second year, the Prutour is now a firm fixture on the international calendar, and should receive its second successive upgrading when event rankings are allocated for next year.

Results, Digest, page 15