Cycling: Piil demonstrates sprinting prowess to snatch victory

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The Independent Online

A seven-year dearth of stage wins for Denmark in the Tour was brought to an end by Jakob Piil in Marseille yesterday after he proved himself to be the faster in a two-man duel with the Italian Fabio Sacchi.

Both Piil and Sacchi are former track riders, something that showed as the Italian slowed in the final kilometre in classic velodrome style to let the Dane take the tactically inferior position ahead, where it is harder to predict the other's pace in the last-second dash for the line.

"I would have preferred to be in his place at that point," Piil admitted, "but I knew that I can still sprint hard when there's 100 metres or less to go, and today my strategy worked." Piil, as chance would have it, is managed by Bjarne Riis, the previous Danish winner of a stage back in rather more dramatic circumstances in 1996 when he sealed his Tour victory with a devastating performance on the Pyrennean col of Hautacam.

Riis was visibly more excited than his protégé, and Piil said he had had to tell his boss, watching him from the team car, to shut up as the finish approached, "because I couldn't hear a word he was saying with all the crowds applauding".

There had been incomprehension as well when Sacchi had shaken his hand with 500 metres left to race on the broad Boulevard Michelet. "It was something in Italian, probably about the best man winning," Piil said.

Piil had formed part of a nine-man attack which had gone clear after less than a quarter of an hour's racing. Given that the best-placed of the nine in the overall standings, Jose Enrique Gutierrez, was 61st, over 47 minutes back, none of the nine were a threat to the Tour leader, Lance Armstrong, and their advantage was close to half an hour before the blue train of US Postal riders finally decided to prevent their margin going any higher.

Piil then took off in the unglamourous circumstances of a motorway flyover in downtown Marseille, with Sacchi quickly following him, the two speeding past the slightly more uplifting backdrop of the city's seafront and the statue to the poet and seafarer Arthur Rimbaud with their seven former companions in hot pursuit - too late, however, to prevent Piil taking the day's honours.

The opportunity for some lesser-known riders to make a name for themselves came as the Tour's favourites declared a truce on the race's first transition stage.

They had much to chew over: as the peloton trundled south past the Alpine foothills and on towards the Mediterranean in temperatures touching the high thirties, Joseba Beloki, widely considered to be Armstrong's principal rival for the Tour, was 30,000 feet above them, flying back to the Basque Country in an air ambulance.

Second in 2002, Beloki suffered an appalling downhill crash on Monday that left him with fractures in right arm, wrist and leg - a second break in his femur was discovered yesterday - and a succession of riders drew parallel to his team-car to inquire for the latest news.

They included Armstrong, who had been following Beloki just metres behind when the Basque's back wheel jammed in a melted tar patch, sending him flying over the handlebars, and Britain's David Millar.

With Beloki now out of contention, Armstrong's principle obstacle ahead of the Tour's first rest day at Narbonne came when two dozen supporters of the imprisoned ecological activist Jose Bové briefly blocked the course. Huffily dismissed by the race's official website as "Bové partisans", the definition was not totally inappropriate given that the protesters chose a wooded valley 80 kilometres from the finish to ambush the stage.

Delayed by around 90 seconds, the riders delicately picked a line through policemen cheerfully practising necklocks and other wrestling holds on the vociferous protesters before continuing on to Marseille.

Armstrong said he would be busy today. "Obviously I have to train and I'm going to take a big nap," he said. "I'm also going to see my family, the kids. I'm going to take it easy, but two days after, we have a big time trial and so I have to focus on that as well."

After the pitched three-day battle in the Alps, today's break will be more than welcome. The Bové supporters may have discovered to their cost, as General de Gaulle said, that nothing stops the Tour, but sometimes even the Tour needs to stop.

Alasdair Fotheringham writes for Cycling Weekly


STAGE 10 (Gap to Marseille, 219.5km, 137.1 miles): 1 J Piil (Den) Team CSC 5hr 9min 33sec; 2 F Sacchi (It) Saeco same time; 3 B De Groot (Neth) Rabobank +49sec; 4 D Nazon (Fr) Brioches 2:07; 5 R Haselbacher (Aut) Gerolsteiner; 6 P Gaumont (Fr) Cofidis; 7 S Baguet (Bel) Lotto; 8 V G Acosta (Sp) iBanestocom all s/t; 9 J E Gutierrez (Sp) Kelme +5:06; 10 B Cooke (Aus) +21:23; 11 R McEwen (Aus) Lotto; 12 E Zabel (Ger) Team Telekom; 13 F Rodriguez (US) Vini Caldirola; 14 F Guidi (It) Team Bianchi; 15 G Glomser (Aut) Saeco; 16 J-P Nazon (Fr) Jean Delatour; 17 C Edaleine (Fr) Jean Delatour; 18 S O'Grady (Aus) Crédit Agricole; 19 L Paolini (It) Quick Step; 20 S Dumoulin (Fr) Jean Delatour all s/t.

Overall (yellow jersey): 1 L Armstrong (US) US Postal 45:46:22; 2 A Vinokourov (Kaz) Telekom +21sec; 3 I Mayo (Sp) Euskaltel +1:02; 4 F Mancebo (Sp) iBanestocom +1:37; 5 T Hamilton (US) CSC +1:52; 6 J Ullrich (Ger) Bianchi +2:10; 7 I Basso (It) Fassa Bortolo +2:25; 8 R Heras (Sp) US Postal +2:28; 9 H Zubeldia (Sp) Euskaltel +3:25; 10 D Menchov (Rus) Banesto +3:45; 11 R Laiseka (Sp) Euskaltel +4:03; 12 C Moreau (Fr) Crédit Agricole +4:04; 13 M Beltran (Sp) US Postal +4:31; 14 G Totschnig (Aut) Gerolsteiner +4:58; 15 P Caucchioli (It) Alessio +5:17; 16 R Virenque (Fr) Quick Step +5:59; 17 C Sastre (Sp) CSC 5:59; 18 J Jaksche (Ger) ONCE +7:05; 19 D Millar (GB) Cofidis +7:15; 20 P Luettenberger (Aut) Team CSC +8:20.

Points (green jersey): 1 Cooke 140; 2 McEwen 131; 3 Zabel 112; 4 T Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole 107; 5 J-P Nazon 100; 6 O'Grady 94.

King of the Mountains (polka-dot jersey): 1 Virenque 135; 2 Jaksche 75; 3 Armstrong 74; 4 I Parra (Col) Kelme 71; 5 A Garmendia (Sp) Bianchi 62; 6 Mancebo 61; 7 R Aldag (Ger) Telekom 61; 8 D Di Luca (It) Saeco 56; 9 Moreau 54; 10 Mayo 53.

Teams: 1 CSC 134:32:58; 2 27; 3 Euskatel +11:09; 4 US Postal +15:20; 5 Cofidis +21:16. Under-25s (white jersey): 1 Menchov 45:50:07; 2 S Chavanel (Fr) Brioches +5:59; 3 E Petrov (Rus) Banesto +9:41; 4 J M Mercado (Sp) Banesto +11:46; 5 M Astarloza (Sp) AG2R +12:29.