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Ten days ago, as the Tour de France entered the Alps, Paolo Savoldelli looked out of sorts. The wisdom of Discovery Channel putting their faith in a weary Giro d'Italia champion was questioned by some as he seemed to lag behind the best on the steepest gradients.
This afternoon, however, the Italian appeared transformed. In the baking heat of the French Midi, the reigning Giro champion looked red hot, as he powered away from his final breakaway companions and then outsprinted CSC's Kurt-Asle Arvesen.
Afterwards, the former Forza Italia candidate from Bergamo talked to the press...
On taking his first Tour stage win:
"It's not every day that you win a stage of the Tour de France. I would never have believed it a month ago when I came here. It's been a good year for me and everything is going well after a lot of difficult years. Today I had a good feeling about my chances of winning when I found myself at the front of the race. A Tour win was missing from my palmars - I only had to look out from the podium to realise the scale of the race and of the organisation, so this gives me huge satisfaction."
On Discovery's tactics for the day: "The plan was to get a break to go for Lance's sake as it would have been ideal for us and for him. But we expected it to be a smaller group. It's hard to win from a group of 17 and even then when it was cut down to eight riders, I seemed to be most fresh - I was certainly more fresh than Hinault."
On the gap between winning a stage and winning the Tour overall:
"It's an abyss. There's an abyss between winning the general classification in the Tour and winning a stage.
On his tactics in the final kilometres:
"If I'd have been on my own at the top of the climb I think I could have won on my own. Hinault tried to do some turns at the front on the descent, but he was struggling and even then, he got dropped in the sprint.
On riders who can rival Lance Armstrong:
"Only Basso - over the past two years he has been the only guy who could stay with Lance in the mountains and he's also improved in the time trials. We will have to see how he performs in the final time trial, but for me there's not much doubt that he's the closest to Lance. Also, he did the Giro before the Tour which proves how strong he is.
On Italian hopes (and his own) for a Tour victory:
"Winning the Tour would be incredibly difficult. The fact that only two Italians have won in 30 years shows how tough it is, it would be hard for me not to do the Giro as defending champion too, but we will think about that in the next few weeks."
On his role as super-domestique to Armstrong:
"Only the very best riders, top notch riders go well every single year. Being a 'gregario' was a bit difficult for me because it's something I have never done but there was no question about me doing my job. Lance is on another planet."
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM