Tour de France news from Annecy

Voigt update, Rogers, Hushovd, Sastre and Menchov

Riders rally round 'lucky' crash-victim Voigt

German Jens Voigt insists the horror crash on the Tour de France which left him with a broken cheekbone could have been far worse.

The 37-year-old German was flown by helicopter to hospital in Grenoble after he was temporarily knocked unconscious following a high speed crash during the 16th stage from Martigny in Switzerland to Bourg Saint Maurice in the Alps. He spent the night in intensive care to recover from facial injuries and concussion.

But with his wife Stephanie now at his side, well wishers from the peloton calling and a new contract extension, Voigt is smiling again.

"I am lucky I wasn't more injured," said Voigt. "It could have been much, much worse."

And having seen team-mate Frank Schleck win Wednesday's 17th stage with brother Andy in third, Voigt urged the Luxembourg brothers to attack Alberto Contador's yellow jersey.

"Concentrate only on the riding and give it everything you have," urged Voigt.

Saxo Bank boss Bjarne Riis said he was relieved Voigt is starting to recover.

"We had expected worse," said the Dane. "Jens belongs in the team as one of our leaders and we have already offered him a new contract."

Voigt hit the tarmac at over 80 kilometres per hour and his cycling helmet saved his life, said team spokesman Brian Nygaard.

"There was definitely no problem with the bike," he said. "It was good that he was wearing the helmet. That probably saved his life. The helmet was completely destroyed after the crash."

And several riders have already offered their best wishes for a speedy recovery including seven-times Tour winner Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie and team-mate Andy Schleck.

"I am relieved that he is conscious again and getting better," said team-mate Thor Hushovd, who was a witness at Voigt's wedding. "It is not nice to see someone, especially a team-mate and friend, suffer like that."

Rogers saves time trial energy for Cavendish

Michael Rogers and Mark Cavendish

Columbia rider Michael Rogers finished well behind the favourites for the Tour de France's 18th stage time trial on Thursday, but said it was all part of the plan.

The Australian said he had deliberately held back in order to save some energy for Sunday's final stage into Paris where his team will focus on making sure Mark Cavendish wins his fifth stage of this year's race.

"My job now is to just look after Cavendish. We're going to save all the energy we've got for the stage to Paris and we're going to hit that one hard," said Rogers at the finish of the 40.5km time trial around Lake Annecy. "We've got to work with what we've got and try and win the last stage for the team."

He added: "It wasn't too bad. I went out at 85 per cent and saw I wasn't too bad at the first time check. I didn't go full gas but it wasn't a bad ride. I caught my two-minute man (Nicolai Trussov) on the climb."

Rogers, a former triple world champion in the time trial, started out with ambitions to finish high up in the race's general classification but due to crashes and bad luck he has tumbled down the standings.

"Obviously, I didn't get off to the best start to this Tour because I had three crashes early," he added. "Through the mountains I never really pushed it too hard. I just stayed with the sprinters and made sure they got through okay. It hasn't been the best Tour for me, but that's life - I'll be back next year."

If Cavendish wins on the Champs Elysees on Sunday he will have won five stages this year. Added to his four from last year it would make him Britain's most successful stage winner on the world's biggest bike race.

Cavendish equalled the British record of eight stage wins, previously held by Englishman Barry Hoban, when he won the 11th stage in Saint Fargeau.

Hushovd set to light up Tour's 19th stage

Thor Hushovd during his stage 17 breakaway

Norwegian Thor Hushovd could be among the riders looking to ignite the breakaways which are expected to brighten up the Tour de France 19th stage on Friday.

A day after the race's final time trial and ahead of Saturday's potential race-deciding 20th stage to the summit of Mont Ventoux the 19th stage returns to what could be considered 'normal' terrain. And the 178km ride over undulating terrain from Bourgoin-Jallieu to Aubenas in the wild and hilly Ardeche region could be the last chance for those who have so far missed out on race glory to stake their claim.

Hushovd, who is wearing the green jersey for the points competition, has already won a stage on the race in Barcelona. But he will be keen to continue keeping green jersey rival Mark Cavendish at bay having left the British sprinter in his wake with some gutsy rides in the mountains in recent days.

On Wednesday's 17th stage Hushovd, who was involved in a bitter spat with Cavendish after the end of the 14th stage, showed the Isle of Man-born rider he intends keeping the sprinters' prize by racing off on his own on the last day in the Alps. His audacious ride over several difficult climbs allowed him to cross both intermediate sprints in first position, thus adding 12 points to take his overall tally to 230.

"If I win the green jersey on the Champs Elysees by 10 points, you could say I won it thanks to my ride (Wednesday) to the Grand Bornand," said Cervelo sprinter Hushovd after the stage.

Columbia rider Cavendish, who has won four stages so far in the race, is on 200 points and although Hushovd believes "thirty points should be enough" to win the jersey he will hope to make sure on Friday.

After a category four-rated climb near the start in Bourgoin-Jallieu a total of six points will be on offer for the first rider over the line of the first intermediate sprint at the 33km mark.

Hushovd may be tempted to stay out the front during the rest of the stage to contend the second intermediate sprint at the 141km mark, just before a category two-rated climb whose summit is 16km from the finish. If he misses the breakaways and the points go elsewhere Hushovd may have to look to the ride to Mont Ventoux, which includes to intermediate sprints, to give him a cushion of comfort before Sunday's final stage.

Failing that, Norway's 2005 winner of the green jersey will have to try and make sure he is near Cavendish when the Manxman goes for the stage victory at the Champs Elysees in Paris.

Sastre and Menchov wave goodbye to Tour ambitions

Carlos Sastre has lost too much tiime to be a contender for the overall this year

Both 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre and pre-race contender Denis Menchov have admitted their only goal now remains getting to Paris on Sunday to finish the race.

Sastre, who rides for Cervelo came into the race admitting he faced a tough challenge against the likes of current race leader Alberto Contador of Astana.

Menchov, however, has been arguably the biggest under-achiever from the handful of contenders who set out to win the race's yellow jersey. Having crashed several times in the first and second weeks of the race the Russian, who rides for Rabobank, also crashed twice on Wednesday's 17th stage.

On the final day in the Alps he had set out to try and close his gap to Contador but ended the stage over 21 minutes behind Contador to sit a massive 48 minutes behind the Spaniard.

"I think it's just bad luck, I can't really explain it," said the 31-year-old Russian who crashed twice on the 17th stage from Bourg Saint Maurice to Le Grand Bornand. "The only ambition I have now is to finish the race in Paris."

Cervelo's Sastre was 13th in the general classification before Thursday's time trial around Lake Annecy.

The Spaniard, who won the race riding for CSC (now Saxo Bank) last year, finished the 17th stage 7:47 behind winner Frank Schleck which leaves him 11:39 behind Contador overall.

"I tried to lose as little time as possible to the favourites because I knew that my last chance on this Tour was today," admitted 34-year-old Sastre. "That was one really hard day, with the wind and the rain.

"My aim was to attack on the (penultimate climb at the) Col de Romme, because it suited my style of riding well. I couldn't match the rhythm and I just wanted to finish the stage in the best possible way."

Another pre-race contender who has lost all chance of a podium place is Australian Cadel Evans, who rides for Silence.

The runner-up for the past two years, Evans flattered to deceive in the Alpine stages where he had been hoping to claw back the time he lost during his team's disastrous time trial performance on stage four. After finishing the 17th stage 29 minutes behind Frank Schleck and Contador, the 32-year-old is in 32nd place at 37:06 behind Contador.

© AFP 2009

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