A stage winner at the Tour de France he may well be, but Aitor Gonzalez has not been the hit his teaPICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Fassa Bortolo directeur sportif Alberto Volpi said a peculiar thing 10 days ago in Chartres. Asked for his view of Aitor Gonzalez's encouraging start to the 2004 Tour de France, Volpi found it reassuring that Gonzalez "was smiling a bit less than he did last year." The inference wasn't that Gonzalez's joyous mood reflected his superb performances 12 months ago. On the contrary, Volpi was suggesting that Gonzalez had taken the 2003 Tour rather less seriously than befits a rider said to be earning 600,000 euros per season Tonight Gonzalez finally had good reason to exhibit those gnashers. Until today, the two years the 2002 Vuelta a Espa¤a winner has spent at Fassa Bortolo since a high-profile move from Kelme had yielded just two victories. Volpi said bluntly last week that he "couldn't accurately estimate Gonzalez's potential at the Tour, because, since he's been with us, he has done nothing." Fassa manager Giancarlo Ferretti has been even more critical of the Spaniard. One month before the Tour started, Ferretti "didn't know whether Gonzalez wanted to do the Tour," and, in any case, "he was a long way from having earned his place." "I don't read the press much," said the 29-year-old Gonzalez, once billed the 'Aitorminator', tonight. "Ferretti signed me for the general classification in major tours, and it's true that I haven't performed well. He can be disappointed just as I myself am disappointed. When you have worked hard for something and it doesn't go as well as you expected, it's regrettable." Lying in 44th on general classification this morning, Gonzalez recognised tonight that, ironically, a desperate showing at Plateau de Beille on Saturday ensured that he could chase victory today. Despite being forced to change focus in the Tour, the Spaniard isn't ready to undergo the transformation from major tour rider to Classics hunter. "In Spain the cycling culture is very different to how it is in Italy," Gonzalez explained. "In Spain we don't have many one-day races, and there isn't much future for a one-day rider there. My future with Fassa Bortolo? I don't know what will happen next year. We will have to discuss it after the Tour." Today's win in the Grande Boucle gained Gonzalez entry to the elite club of riders to have won stages in all three major Tours. "It's an important achievement, but today I just want to savour this," Gonzalez agreed, smile from ear to ear.