Tour de France news

Wiggins, Astana, the Pope, Evans, Roulston

The chances of seeing a British rider on the Tour de France podium have looked slim for decades, and Bradley Wiggins insists that punters should not start laying bets just yet.

Garmin rider Wiggins has defied his popular status as a top track rider to stay in the race's top ten from the start, confirming his emerging climbing talents on the four mountain stages held so far in the process.

After the first of three stages in the Alps, the Londoner sits just 1:46 behind 2007 champion Alberto Contador, who took the yellow jersey with a solo attack and victory on Sunday on stage 15.

Wiggins, a triple Olympic pursuit champion in track, admitted he could get carried away with heady thoughts of finishing among the top three overall in Paris next Sunday.

But with two tough climbing days before Thursday's time trial, then the penultimate stage climb to the summit of Mont Ventoux on Saturday, he is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.

"I'm not stupid enough to think I can beat Contador, he's proved by and far he's the best bike rider in this race," Wiggins told reporters here Monday on the race's last rest day. "I knew I was physically capable of a top 15 or 20 finish but right now I'm not looking too far ahead. Anything can happen from one day to the next - I could have lost four minutes in the first week because of splits and crashes. We're just looking at one day at a time. (Tuesday's) another tough stage.

"I'll get (Tuesday) first, then the next day, then the time trial and then get through Mont Ventoux. Paris is a long way off yet. The race is by no means done yet."

The last time Wiggins completed the Tour, in 2006, he finished in 123rd place overall when he rode with Cofidis.

Three years later, with two new gold medals from the Beijing Olympics, Wiggins is now attracting plaudits from both Contador and Australia's two-time runner-up Cadel Evans.

However Wiggins insists he's taking it one day at a time.

("Tuesday's) a tough stage, two big climbs. I don't think much too far ahead than that," he said. "It's small steps. (Tuesday)'s another day on the Tour de France and as history shows everything can be lost in one day."

Astana truck searched by police at Swiss border

A truck belonging to the Astana team, whose leader Alberto Contador holds the Tour de France's yellow jersey, was searched for three hours on Tuesday by police, it was confirmed.

The truck, containing spare bikes, equipment and food, was making its way from the start of the 16th stage at Martigny, Switzerland to the finish line here at Bourg St Maurice.

It was stopped at the Swiss-France border near the Swiss village of Le Chatelard and searched by police, but nothing was found, confirmed Astana spokesman Philippe Maertens.

"They were very thorough and opened every suitcase, every container and found nothing," he told AFP.

Pope sends greetings to Tour de France racers in Italy

Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday sent "warm greetings" to Tour de France racers set to pass through Italy's northwestern Val d'Aosta region where the pontiff is holidaying.

The pope "addresses his warm greetings to all the racers and the organisers of this competition," the Vatican said in a communique.

Benedict used the occasion to urge all athletes to remain mindful of "moral ... and educational values," the statement said.

Tuesday's stage of the Tour de France passed within three kilometres (two miles) as the crow flies from the chalet where the pope is staying at Les Combes d'Introd.

Evans set to take part in Tour of Spain

Australia's Cadel Evans confirmed Tuesday he is set to compete in next month's Tour of Spain in preparation for the world road race championships on September 27.

Evans, who is 14th overall in the Tour de France general classification before Tuesday's 16th stage, said the Spanish race is the perfect preparation for the world championships course in Mendrisio, Switzerland.

"I know the course for the world championships, it's a lot more difficult than the one last year in Varese (in Italy)," said the Silence-Lotto leader who has finished as runner-up for the last two years of the Tour de France.

"The Vuelta (Tour of Spain) is the best preparation for this objective at the end of the season."

The Vuelta takes place from August 29 to September 20.

Alternative route back a winner for Roulston

A chance meeting in a pub with an alternative healer is the last place you would expect a Tour de France rider to pin-point as the moment he got his career back.

Having been diagnosed in 2006 with a rare and incurable heart disease known to cause sudden death in athletes - Hayden Roulston's cycling career was over at just 25 years old.

After a handful of seasons competing for professional teams Cofidis and Lance Armstrong's Discovery Team, Roulston was diagnosed with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD) in 2006 and told to stop competing.

Bad news for a professional cyclist with ambitions to succeed on the Tour de France's 3,500 kilometres.

Yet three years on 28-year-old Roulston is an Olympic silver-medallist and last Saturday he claimed third on stage 14th of the Tour.

And before March's Tour of California, he got the confirmation from a doctor telling him what he already knew: he has a healthy heart.

"Three years ago, I was diagnosed with (ARVD), but before the Tour of California a doctor told me I have a healthy heart," said the 28-year-old. "It's like a second life and I have got my dream back as a cyclist."

Four months after he was first diagnosed with ARVD, he met alternative healer Julie Reid in a Christchurch pub. Their conversation disrupted his beers with mates but it put Roulston back on the path to the Tour.

A quick five-minute session of reiki - an ancient Japanese healing practice which is said to channel negative energy out of the body - failed to produce any obvious results until his next bike session.

"I had finished with cycling, all my dreams were gone. I had nothing to lose," he said. "Next day I went training and felt something different. I wasn't missing a heart beat and I was getting 300 beats per minute on a heart-rate monitor.

"A 300 rate means virtual death - my normal heart-rate is 170 to 180 - so, for me, 300 was a massive, massive issue. I had another treatment, but what is amazing is that Julie was still learning about reiki herself and the energy she has which is super powerful. I was totally sold after that - it blew me away to see her response: her hands were shaking and she was sweating from taking the bad energy out of my body."

Regular reiki sessions saw Roulston improve to the extent he returned to competition, and left him standing on the podium in Beijing after winning silver in the individual pursuit and bronze in the team pursuit.

But a return to the Tour de France was his ultimate ambition so when Cervelo, with 2008 winner Carlos Sastre as their leader, offered him a contract last September he jumped at it.

"Going from having to retire from the sport to come back and get both Olympic success and be back in the pros again has been incredible," he said. "It's hard for a New Zealander, or anyone outside of Europe, to get a shot at the pros, but I am very lucky to get a second chance. It was only nine months ago I was at (New Zealand's) Tour of Southland questioning whether I could win that race, now I am at the Tour de France and fighting for a stage win a few days ago."

He finished third on Saturday's stage behind Katusha's Sergei Ivanov after the Russian made a stage-winning breakaway move 11 kilometres out to hold off Ireland's Nicolas Roche, who came second, just ahead of Roulston.

"It was a great achievement, I was initially disappointed and I still fully believe I can win a stage, but third is pretty good," he said.

As a domestique, Roulston's role is to give support to Cervelo's leaders Sastre and Thor Hushovd.

"My job is to support our two leaders whenever they need it, whether it is to try and lead out or get water bottles," he said.

But with a new lease of life and a second chance at Tour glory, Roulston refuses to waste a single opportunity.

"I am just beginning now, this time I will use all my potential," he said having now studied and become qualified in reiki," he added. "I have changed, it has fully changed my attitude to life, everything happens for a reason. I could have accepted the first diagnosis and said 'that's it', but I kept my mind open for a second alternative and I started to learn about the real me."

And with his partner due to give birth next Tuesday, Roulston is hoping for plenty to celebrate when the Tour finishes in Paris on Sunday.

© 2009 AFP & BikeRadar

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