Flecha hits his target in Toulouse
TOULOUSE, France – The Tour de France returned to action Thursday following the race’s rest day, and the mood was upbeat and relaxed in Narbonne as huge crowds turned out to watch the roll out to watch the 94-mile, 11th stage from Narbonne to Toulouse, in southern France.
Juan Antonio Flecha blazed like an arrow across the finish line on an airport runway in Toulouse to claim victory in Flecha – whose last name means “arrow” in Spanish – escaped the clutches of an eight-man breakaway with 10 miles to go in the relatively easy transition stage that carried this year’s Tour closer to the Pyrenees.
“I haven’t won a race in two years and my friends were asking me if the arrow is wet, if it’s lost its way,” said Flecha, who attacked the peloton early in the stage. “Today I have demonstrated that the arrow is working.”
Flecha said he knew exactly where he wanted to make his move coming into Thursday’s finish. His girlfriend lives and studies in Toulouse and Flecha spends a lot of time training on the local rides on frequent visits from his home near to Barcelona, Spain.
“I knew the course like a map. My girlfriend lives here and I ride here a lot,” said Flecha, whose girlfriend was waiting at the finish line.
Lotto-Domo’s Robbie McEwen of Australia won the bunch sprint to take ninth just ahead of countryman and green-jersey holder Baden Cooke of Fdjeux.com. McEwen grabbed one point back against his compatriot and rival in the battle for the green jersey; just eight points separate the two Aussies.
There were no changes in the jerseys. France’s “bad boy,” Richard Virenque of Quick Step, retained the polka-dot climber’s jersey; Armstrong finished safely in the main bunch to retain the yellow jersey; and Denis Menchov of iBanesto.com retained the best young rider’s white jersey.
Tyler Hamilton has been one of the Tour’s inspirational stories, but many within the close-knit cycling world are not so convinced.
Telekom team manager Walter Godefroot called Hamilton’s determination to stay in the Tour despite fracturing his right shoulder in the Tour’s first stage, “a cheap PR American stunt.”
Not to be outdone, former Tour winner Stephen Roche told the French press Hamilton’s efforts “have been blown out of proportion.”
“It’s totally ridiculous,” Roche said. “If the doctor says it’s broken or fractured, then he shouldn’t be racing. It’s as simple as that.”
Hamilton and Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis responded to questions in a team press conference Wednesday. On Thursday morning, the team’s press officer had photocopies of Hamilton’s X-rays to hand out to any doubters.
“I’m very sorry and disappointed in all those people who don’t believe Tyler is riding with a fractured collarbone,” Riis said. “We are here to tell the truth and we can show the pictures, we have them here. I think everyone should think that what Tyler is doing is something very special. I don’t need everybody to believe what we’re saying, but they should respect what happened.”
Hamilton bristled at the notion that the team has overblown his injuries in a cheap maneuver to gain publicity.
“Most people tell me I’m crazy. That’s about it,” he said.
Riis said he doesn’t expect Hamilton to ride at 100 percent strength in Friday’s time trial and hopes the New Englander can finish in the top five.
Editor’s note: For complete results, visit the Tour de France’s official Web site, http://www.letour.fr/2003/us/index.html.
Steve Wood – assistant editor, local news
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