Germany's Linus Gerdemann scored a major upset by winning the first mountains stage of the Tour de France to pull on the race's fabled yellow jersey in Le Grand Bornand on Saturday.
Gerdemann, of T-Mobile, came over the finish line of the 197.5km run from Bourg-en-Bresse to here 40secs ahead of Spaniard Inigo Landaluze after a dramatic descent to the finish line. Euskaltel climber Landaluze had been one of two Spaniards chasing Gerdemann in the race's final 20km, after the race debutant attacked Kazakh rider Dmitriy Fofonov seven kilometres from the summit of the Colombiere ascent.
Gerdemann came over the top of the race's first category one climb after a 16km slog, with a 17-sec lead on Landaluze, who had by then overtaken a tiring Fofonov on his way up. However, if his attack on the way up set pulses racing, Gerdemann's descent provided further drama.
The 25-year-old Gerdemann flirted with disaster on more than one occasion, skirting the concrete of a roadside barrier after taking a left hand bend far too tight, and keeping his team on tenterhooks as he did everything possible to hold off his chasers. Suffering from cramps, and the fear of being caught by Landaluze, Gerdemann gritted his teeth and eventually came over the finish line in triumph.
His victory will mean a lot to a team who, almost 10 years ago to the day, triumphed in former race champion Jan Ullrich winning his first stage on the race.
"It is a dream come true," said Gerdemann, who has been heralded as one of T-Mobile's new generation since a total shake-up of the team's management in the wake of doping revelations by former riders. "I really only began to think about savouring my win 300 metres from the finish line."
He admitted the hardest part had been the solo ride to the Colombiere summit. "The last kilometre on the climb was so long, I was looking for the 500 metre (to go) sign, and of course it wasn't there - because there aren't any on the climbs of the Tour!"
Gerdemann now leads Euskaltel climber Landaluze, a former winner of the Dauphine Libéré stage race, by 1min 24sec in the race's general classification. But the race to replace disgraced American Floyd Landis is only just beginning.
"It doesn't mean a lot," said contender Cadel Evans when asked how T-Mobile's possession of the yellow jersey will change the strategies of the contending team. "It's still very early."
Germany's Andreas Klöden still leads Evans, and another few, more realistic yellow jersey contenders, the Astana rider sitting sixth at 3:39. Klöden was riding his second day since fracturing his tailbone on Thursday's fifth stage, and the peloton's decision - or inability - to take time off the former runner-up will prove a boon to the embattled Astana team.
His team leader Alexandre Vinokourov also finished the race intact, losing no time to his main rivals despite racing for the second day with over 30 stitches in deep cuts on his knees. Vinokourov is now 44th at 5:16 behind Gerdemann.
Evans, his fellow Australian Michael Rogers, Spanish pair Oscar Pereiro and Alejandro Valverde, and American Levi Leipheimer, are all within 10secs of each other. Evans, the 30-year-old Predictor-Lotto climber, is likely to try and keep with any dangerous yellow jersey contenders before daring to strike out on his own. In the meantime he gave thanks to his team for working for him throughout the day.
"I take my hat off to the boys, they're really doing a good job," said Evans, who admitted the main bunch had suffered from the first real day of hot temperatures on the race. "A bit warm, but I think everyone might have been. It's going pretty good so far, but tomorrow's the big test. We'll see how that goes."
Sunday's stage from here to Tignes is being tipped as the hardest day of three in total in the Alps. It features six climbs in total, three of which are graded category one, and the race's first summit finish.
© AFP 2007