Frenchman Cyril Dessel claimed stage 2, the 'queen' stage of the Volta a Catalunya, in a spectacular solo bid which also earned him the overall race lead.
On the 191.9 kilometre mountainous journey from Banyoles to La Seu d'Urgell, the 33-year-old climber from the AG2R-La Mondiale made a select group of contenders from a peloton shattered by the hors categorie Alt de Pedraforca and the short, steep ramp of the Alt de Josa del Cadí. He then used the final descent from to launch his race-winning move after the two remaining riders of the day's breakaway crashed.
"For my part, I wasn't feeling too bad, a bit lukewarm, but was keeping an eye on the action in the peloton," Dessel explained of his finale. "When we approached the two leading men there were a lot of attacks including that of Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R) and the Colombian [Rigoberto] Uran [Caisse d'Epargne]. Behind, on the descent, things exploded a bit. I knew I can descend well and I decided to attack.
"I caught Uran, who couldn't hold my wheel. I then descended rapidly, taking risks to try to widen the gap. I held the advantage, and was then able to make an effort without taking risks in the last kilometers. I finished with courage and with cramps," he continued. "This victory rewards a beautiful day for the team. And for me to win a mountain stage, alone, and a ProTour event, it's beautiful and it is essential for confidence."
With the race's toughest stage out of the way, the wearer of the yellow jersey for one day in the 2006 Tour de France now has a strong prospect to win the overall classification.
"Nothing is won; some very hilly stages remain, but I have confidence in the team and it will be up to me to have the legs to win," Dessel concluded.
The victory concluded a day of strong riding by the AG2R La Mondiale team, whose director Julien Jurdie was pleased.
"It is foremost the satisfaction of winning in a ProTour race. But it is also the satisfaction of seeing the group work well and turn up the volume," said Jurdie. The team had Christophe Riblon in the early breakaway, and when that move came back had Efimkin to counter before Dessel descended his way to the win. "The team has never really been put in difficulty. Now, the goal is to defend the jersey," Jurdie explained. "We can be optimistic even though we know we'll face a tough battle. It would be nice to win, no Frenchman has managed to prevail in Catalonia for over 10 years."
A breakaway of Christophe Moreau (Agritubel), Christophe Riblon (AG2r), Dimitri Champion (Bouygues Telecom), Alexandre Botcharov (Caisse d'Epargne) Rubén Pérez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Francisco Jose Martinez (Andalucia-Caja Sur) and Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) gained a maximum of 6'30" on the peloton, but on the final climb only Riblon and Botcharov remained in the lead.
The pair held a 2'50" lead on a much reduced peloton, but a crash on a gravel-strewn turn took both of them down on a technical descent. As the chasing group closed in, Efimkin launched his attack and was followed by Uran, but neither could match the descending prowess of Dessel, who attacked and was able to build up a 34 second lead on a chasing group of five riders by the line: Remi Pauriol (Credit Agricole), Janez Brajkovic (Astana), Josep Jufré (Saunier Duval), Rigoberto Uran (Caisse d'Epargne) and Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel) and take over the general classification by 18 seconds over Pauriol.
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