In a story of two lead-out men, as Thor Hushovd tonight hailed Julian Dean's contribution to his first win of the 2007 season, the Norwegian's green jersey rival Tom Boonen was left cursing a Gert Steegmans mistake on the run-in to Joigny.
Two days ago, Steegmans went beyond his brief as Boonen's pilot fish to win in Gent. This afternoon in Joigny, Steegmans robbed his captain of another victory, but this time there was no happy ending or commemorative photo for the Belgian pair's Quick-Step team. Instead, as Boonen crossed the line, there was a frustrated gesture in Steegmans direction, an eighth place finish and just 18 points to add to Tornado Tom's green jersey tally.
"When we came to the chicane in the last kilometre, Steegmans hit the brakes and I ended up basically riding on the front wheel," Boonen huffed. "That was the end of the sprint for me; from there, I knew I couldn't win."
Steegmans was quick to reply and to justify himself. "I ran straight into a train of Lampre riders, straight into [Danilo] Napolitano," he said. "To get round Napolitano, I'd have needed to eat him."
Boonen, who now leads the points competition by twelve points from Erik Zabel, did find some cause for cheer. "At least things are going fine as far as the green jersey is concerned," he said. "I'm doing well and gradually increasing my lead. At this rate, if things start going really badly, at least I'll have a cushion."
Hushovd clearly has other ideas. The 2005 green jersey winner was involved in the pile-up at Gent on Monday and fumed as he saw Boonen move 26 points ahead of him on the points classification. "For three hours after that I was angry but it passed after dinner that night. I told myself that I'd been preparing for this Tour for so long, that I needed to stay positive.
"Obviously I'm really happy today, because it's been a tough season," he continued. "I prepared to be good for the Classics but I was sick before Milan-San Remo and that ruined things. After that, I came back at the Giro and finished twice a couple of times in stages there. Now I hope that my problems are behind me."
Hushovd had earlier called New Zealand champion Dean "the best lead-out man in the world on uphill finishes". "I don't look at my sprint rivals - I have faith in Julian Dean. I do everything to stay in his wheel. He chooses my line for me. When he started winding it up today I knew that it could be a good day for me."
Fourth today, Erik Zabel also indirectly praised Dean by marvelling at the pace the Credit Agricole rider set in the final kilometre. "It was extremely fast - it must have taken us 50 or 55 seconds to cover the final kilometres".
Zabel then obliged with what gets our vote as quote of the day: "I've no idea where I finished... I'm getting too old for this shit."