PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
Before turning pro with Crdit Agricole in 2002, Christophe Le Mevel was one of France's leading young hopes, a rider who was expected to have much more impact than most aspiring but often ordinary French prospects. Unfortunately, just months into that debut season Le Mevel crashed badly at the Four Days of Dunkirk, severing his sciatic nerve and ending up partially paralysed.
Months of rehabilitation in his native Brittany eventually enabled Le Mevel to move his ankle, but when he returned to competition in early 2003 he was still unable to walk. Specially built shoes enabled him to compete on the bike again, although not without a lot of pain initially. Even now, the 24-year-old Breton is still unable to run, but he has begun to show signs of that cycling promise once again. Never more so than today when he became the first Frenchman to win a stage of this year's Giro d'Italia on a transitional stage between yesterday's rest day and tomorrow's key mountain stage to Limone Piemonte.
A lot of riders in the peloton knew that today's stage into Varazze offered their final chance of a win at the Giro, and that meant the pace was high and the attacks frequent during the first half of the day. Eventually 18 riders did get clear and, as none of them were highly placed overall, race leader Paolo Savoldelli's Discovery Channel team allowed them their freedom.
The group stayed together until the main climb of the day, the Bric Berton, which featured in Milan-San Remo a few years back. Domina Vacanze's Alessandro Vanotti attacked here, splitting the group. By the top he had five other riders for company, including Le Mevel, who is unable to make sudden changes of pace, but can attack strongly when he has some momentum, an asset that was soon to prove decisive.
Vanotti attacked on the descent from the Bric Berton, but was caught on the next small climb. Addy Engels repeated the tactic on the subsequent descent, but was also pulled back by the other five. Over the closing kilometres the sextet cooperated, knowing another seven riders were not too far behind and chasing hard.
Davitamon's Christophe Brandt was the first to attack as the finish neared, but was chased down by Vanotti. Carrying some momentum from that chase, Le Mevel immediately countered. There were just 1500 metres left, the other five watched each other for too long, and Le Mevel was away and clear.
His celebration was long and thoroughly well deserved. Brandt, the highest placed rider in the break, came in nine seconds down on the Frenchman hammering his bars with frustration. Perhaps they had all underestimated Le Mevel, in which case they probably weren't the first given what he has gone through to get himself into his winning position today.
The bunch came in 22 minutes down after a fairly stress-free final half to the day. The same is very unlikely to be the case tomorrow on the summit finish at Limone Piemonte.
Stage 16, Lissone-Varazze
1 Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Crdit Agricole 210km in 4.50.51 (43.32kph)
2 Christophe Brandt (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto 0.09
3 Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) Domina Vacanze 0.16
4 Dmitri Fofonov (Kaz) Cofidis
5 Frank Schleck (Lux) CSC
6 Addy Engels (Hol) Quick Step
7 Alberto Ongarato (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 0.50
8 Uros Murn (Slo) Phonak
9 Lilian Jgou (Fra) Francaise des Jeux
10 Andr Korff (Ger) T-Mobile
1 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 76.07.16
2 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 0.25
3 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Lampre-Caffita 1.48
4 Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Saunier Duval 2.11
5 Jos Rujano (Ven) Selle Italia 2.18
6 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Crdit Agricole 3.25
7 Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) Domina Vacanze 4.05
8 Emanuele Sella (Ita) Panaria 5.50
9 Dario Cioni (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 6.40
10 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Illes Balears 6.44
- Two stage races got under way today. At the Tour of Belgium, the first stage out of and back into Ostend was won by Quick Step's Tom Boonen in a bunch sprint. Another sprinter took the honours at the Tour of Bavaria, although veteran Jan Svorada did not wait for the sprint to make what proved to be his winning effort there.
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM