Sunday, 17 June 2007

Brave Moreau takes the Dauphiné...

A thrilling Dauphiné Libéré ended today by the shores of Lake Annecy in the French Alps, with the last 5 kilometres providing a fitting climax to a great edition of the race. Homeboy Christophe Moreau (AG2r) retained the overall leaders jersey, taken from the shoulders of Astana’s Andrey Kashechkin on the Col De Télégraphe on Saturday. The overall win gives Moreau a second Dauphiné to add to the one he won in 2001, and has an interesting sub-text in the fight against doping.

Few would back Moreau for the overall when the Tour de France starts in just under three weeks time, but he’s a consistently strong and gritty rider who will certainly have some good days in this year’s race. It’s always pleasing to see a French rider win on home soil, especially one who is so positive (no pun intended) in his stance against doping. It wasn’t always that way, Moreau being one of the key protagonists to fall from grace in the Festina affair that blighted the 1998 edition of the Tour. That Moreau could rebuild his reputation and career after such a setback, and further still prove to be such a force in the movement for clean cycling, is exactly why I believe cyclists deserve a second chance if they’re serious in their remorse.

As impressive as Moreau’s performance was, it is to the main contenders for the yellow jersey in July that most people will be looking in their post-race analysis. Astana, minus Klöden, dominated the race in a manner that cynics would suggest stretches credulity, winning four stages and pretty much being able to enjoy the luxury of deciding who to send down the road at any given time in a bid for glory. The final stage was won by leader and, surely, overwhelming favourite for the Tour Alexander Vinokourov. After a largely uneventful ascent of the Col De Forclaz, Vino waited for the race to come together on the flat and powered away time-trial style to win the stage by almost 30 seconds.

Discovery’s Levi Leipheimer earlier tried exactly the same tactic, but even before he slid off at a roundabout in the treacherous wet conditions Vino looked as though he would have swallowed the American well before the line. Of the other possible contenders, Oscar Perreiro won the sprint for second, Dennis Menchov looked perky, and Alberto Contador once again showed he could stay with the big boys.

Cadel Evans, less than 30 seconds behind Moreau at the start of the day, once again failed to attack at a crucial time. Side-by-side with Moreau on the Forclaz, he showed no inclination to jump away and go for broke. His attacks after the peleton had left the mountain and entered the valley looked like an exercise in futility. Perhaps he’s playing a clever game and saving his powder for July?

It is important to remember that good form in the middle of June will not win the Tour De France, but most of the main players looked as though they are timing their efforts just about right. There was no Carlos Sastre, and Alejandro Valverde went home with a stomach bug half way through the race. Rumours continue to circulate about his involvement in Puerto, but so far that’s all they are and it would be wrong to leap to any conclusions.

The most intriguing questions, however, all seem to surround the Astana challenge. After last year’s triumph in the Vuelta (Tour of Spain), which showed that he could go the distance on a three-week stage race, Vinokourov looks lke the man to beat. My main concern is that his team might be just a little too top heavy. With both Klöden and Kashechkin in the ranks, isn’t it déjà vu T-Mobile - too many chiefs and not enough Indians?

I’ve no doubt there will be more reading of the tea leaves in the weeks ahead, but as an appetite-whetting curtain raiser, the 59th Dauphiné Libéré was as good as it gets. Roll on July…


The Ghost of Jerry Reed said...

Thanks for the cycling recap, better than VeloNews... do you ride a merlin? (I noticed the link)

Ferdinand said...

I love my titanium - I've got a new Merlin Works 6/4 and my old Litespeed Vortex that I raced on. For a big guy like me, ti makes sense!!