Moncoutié storms to Bastille Day victory

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The Independent Online

The Frenchman David Moncoutié could hardly have chosen a more appropriate date - 14 July - for giving the Tour's host nation their first stage win of this year's race.

The Cofidis rider's solo win in Digne-les-Bains on Bastille Day gave a much-needed boost to local sporting pride in an event last won overall by a French rider, Bernard Hinault, two decades ago and where memories of losing the Paris 2012 Olympic bid to London remain fresh.

In a carbon-copy of the manoeuvre which earned the 30-year-old a stage victory in his home region of Figeac last year, the Frenchman laid the foundations to success when he joined a day-long break of 13 through the southern foothills of the Alps.

Moncoutié then attacked on the stage's penultimate climb, the viciously steep Côte de Corobin, arguing afterwards that "the last ascent was not hard enough for me to go clear, and that today was maybe my only chance to take a stage".

Moncoutié took major risks on a twisting descent, its tarmac rendered dangerously sticky as thermometers hit 30C for the first time in this year's Tour, to ensure his lead stayed at around 30 seconds on a group led by the Belgian Axel Merckx.

One brief drive up a fourth-category climb later, all that remained for the Cofidis rider to clinch the win was a rapid drop to the finish at speeds touching 80kph [50mph].

Moncoutié converted the final kilometre into a one-man, two-wheeled Bastille Day victory procession on the same road, as the French were quick to remember, used by Napoleon when he escaped from Elba.

If Moncoutié's win was heavily symbolic for the Frenchit was not without a wider significance.

The issue of doping has come uncomfortably close to the surface of the 2005 Tour following the arrest on Wednesday of the Italian rider Dario Frigo and his wife, the latter caught transporting suspected illegal performance-enhancing products.

Moncoutié, on the other hand, is famous for refusing to use anything but homeopathic remedies, so his victory has once more turned the spotlight on the race's murkier underbelly - the continuing use of banned substances by an unknown number of riders.

Police vigilance of the Tour continues apace: yesterday whilst tens of thousands cheered Moncoutié on during his 35-kilometre lone break, in a motorway layby an hour's drive to the west customs officials were carrying out spot-checks on vehicles, some unmarked, from five teams.

Police sources stated that nothing untoward was found. But it is a sign of the current tension in the Tour that Moncoutié's comment that "the French riders are suffering because of the race's high average speed" was pounced on by journalists as a reference to how closely riders from different nations are supervised by anti-doping checks, sometimes put forward as a reason why the French are so inconsistent here.

Currently in yellow for the 74th day in his career, Lance Armstrong's principal worry on a relatively uncomplicated stage was the first loss of a team-mate, the Spanish climber Manuel Beltran following a major crash.

Another absentee was double stage winner Tom Boonen, who failed to start because of a knee injury. Boonen had held the green jersey for leading the points competition since the second day. The maillot jaune, however, looks likely to stay with the same rider for the foreseeable future.

Alasdair Fotheringham writes for 'Cycling Weekly'

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