Italy's leading climber, Riccardo Ricco has a reputation for shooting his mouth off, but yesterday the Saunier Duval-Scott rider correctly fulfilled his own pre-race prediction that he would win the Tour's first mountain top finish at Super-Besse.
As the last remnants of the peloton shattered close to the summit, Ricco – nicknamed the Cobra because he says he likes to "look his enemies in the eyes before attacking" – glided ominously towards the head of a tiny group led by the 2006 Tour winner Oscar Pereiro. But if Ricco was planning on mesmerising his rivals with his stare before going for their sporting jugular, yesterday he had no such opportunity. Instead he was forced to tear after leading Tour contender Alejandro Valverde when the Caisse D'Epargne rider charged away, then sneak past the Spaniard at the last minute to claim a close victory. Ricco's late lunge earned Saunier Duval their first ever Tour stage win.
Second in the recent Tour of Italy, Ricco had afterwards roundly blamed his squad for failing to give him sufficient support. His rivals – once written off by Ricco as "vegetables who never attack" – proved difficult even for the Cobra to digest at Super-Besse and he admitted team-work had been a crucial factor. "After [team-mate] Leonardo [Piepoli] attacked in the final section, my rivals had to work hard to bring him. I could watch and wait, and Valverde's attack was a good one, but I always had him under control."
David Millar's team-mate Christian Vande Velde was the only rider to go with Piepoli's move, and it briefly looked as if the American could have taken yellow. But after a mid-race crash on Wednesday had left his right side swathed in bandages, Valverde was keen to put on a show of strength and his Caisse D'Epargne squad aborted the move only 1.5 kilometres from the line as their man came in second. Left stranded by the final series of ferocious accelerations, Millar himself finished 39th, 51 seconds back on Ricco.
If the sudden increase in speed cost Millar his chance of taking the lead, it also wrecked the German Stefan Schumacher's chance of keeping the lead. Part of the front group all the way up the climb but caught out by the brutal change of pace at the finish, Schumacher touched wheels with another rider and hit the deck. He was 32 seconds behind Ricco and it led to Kim Kirchen, a team-mate of Mark Cavendish in the Columbia squad, taking the yellow jersey.
Kirchen fiercely denied accusations that he was responsible for bringing Schumacher down. "I was very surprised to hear that because I didn't see him for the last two kilometres," he insisted. Asked if he thought he'd be in yellow had Schumacher not crashed, the 30-year-old retorted fiercely: "The only thing I know is that with all the riders switching sides at the last minute, I couldn't sprint for the win."
Alasdair Fotheringham writes for www.cyclingweekly.co.uk
Stage 6 results and standings
(195.5km from Aigurande to Super-Besse): 1 R Ricco (It) Saunier Duval 4hr 57min 52sec; 2 A Valverde (Sp) Caisse d'Epargne +1sec; 3 C Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto +1; 4 F Schleck (Lux) Team CSC +4sec; 5 K Kirchen (Lux) Columbia; 6 R Kreuziger (Cz Rep) Liquigas +7; 7 M Duenas Nevado (Sp) Barloworld; 8 C Sastre (Sp) Team CSC; 9 D Menchov (Rus) Rabobank; 10 L Piepoli (It) Saunier Duval all same time; 11 M Beltran (Sp) Liquigas +12; 12 S Sanchez (Sp) Euskaltel s/t; 13 O Pereiro (Sp) Caisse d'Epargne +15; 14 S Devolder (Bel) Quick-Step +19; 15 T Lovkvist (Swe) Columbia +23; 16 Y Trofimov (Rus) Bouygues Telecom; 17 D Fofonov (Kaz) Crédit Agricole; 18 M Astarloza (Sp) Euskaltel; 19 C Vandevelde (US) Garmin - Chipotle; 20 T Valjavec (Sloven) AG2R; all s/t.Leading overall: 1 K Kirchen (Lux) Columbia 24hr 30min 41sec; 2 C Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto +6sec; 3 S Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner +16; 4 C Vandevelde (US) Garmin - Chipotle +44; 5 D Millar (GB) Garmin - Chipotle +47; 6 T Lovkvist (Swe) Columbia +54; 7 D Menchov (Rus) Rabobank +1:03; 8 A Valverde (Sp) Caisse d'Epargne +1:12; 9 S Devolder (Bel) Quick-Step +1:21; 10 O Pereiro (Sp) Caisse d'Epargne s/t; 11 S Sanchez (Sp) Euskaltel +1:27; 12 C Sastre (Sp) Team CSC +1:34; 13 M Monfort (Bel) Cofidis +1:40; 14 D Cunego (It) Lampre +1:42; 15 G Hincapie (US) Columbia +1:45; 16 M Astarloza (Sp) Euskaltel +1:49; 17 F Schleck (Lux) Team CSC +1:56; 18 A Schleck (Lux) Team CSC +1:58; 19 B Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner +2:03; 20 C Knees (Ger) Milram +2:04.
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