Aitor finally makes his presence felt

It's been a long time coming but Aitor Gonzalez finally makes an impact at the Tour, winning today's

It's been a long time coming but Aitor Gonzalez finally makes an impact at the Tour, winning today's
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE A couple of years back, after he won the 2002 Vuelta and then concluded a big money transfer from Kelme to Fassa Bortolo, Aitor Gonzalez was very vocal about giving Lance Armstrong a run for his money at the Tour de France. Last year he didn't even make it through the Alps into the second week of the race. Although he has lasted better this year, he slipped well out of overall contention as the race came through the Pyrenees. He was so far back, in fact, that when he joined a break that finally managed to get clear of the fast-moving field 100 kilometres into today's 'transitional' stage from Carcassone to Nimes, no one in the bunch was bothered enough to try to chase him down. But, in a similar way to David Millar when he won in Bziers a couple of years ago, Gonzalez made his lowly overall placing count by seeing off his nine breakaway rivals to secure his first Tour win and Fassa's third of the race. Surprisingly, it was also Spain's first stage win of the 2004 Tour. The winning break went away after two hours or so of very frantic activity in the bunch. Attacks went right from the first kilometre, but none of them got a minute clear until Nicolas Jalabert jumped away at the 100-kilometre mark and was quickly joined by Gonzalez, Liberty's Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, Euskaltel's I¤igo Landaluze and Egoi Martinez, FDJ's Christophe Mengin, Crdit Agricole's Pierrick Fedrigo, Gerolsteiner's Peter Wrolich, Rabobank's Marc Lotz and T-Mobile's Santiago Botero, another rider of whom much has been expected but little has been seen. The peloton eased its relentless pace as these 10 went clear and within a short time they were 10 minutes and wondering how to play things at the finish. Cooperation was maintained until just inside the 10-kilometre banner when Gonzalez de Galdeano attempted half-heartedly to go clear on his own. After a couple more attacks and counters, Aitor Gonzalez tried for a second time with seven kilometres left, the nine behind him hesitated, and that was enough for this great time triallist to build an unassailable advantage. Jalabert nipped past compatriot Mengin for second place 25 seconds later. The bunch was led in almost a quarter of an hour down by green jersey Robbie McEwen, who narrowly edged out all of his closest rivals for that prize. With two time trials and three hard days in the mountains to come, the Australian may have done just about enough already to regain the points title he won in 2002 and lost on the last day in 2003.
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