Super Mercado opens his account
Juan Miguel Mercado strikes a blow for the little guy as he beats strapping Vicente Garcia Acosta in
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Quick Step haven’t had the return they were expecting from Spanish climbers Juan Miguel Mercado and Jose Antonio Pecharroman since they signing them at the tail-end of last season, but former ibanesto.com rider Mercado conjured up a huge dollop of consolation from what has not been a great year by winning the stage into Lons Le Saunier this afternoon. The diminutive Spaniard probably wasn’t many people’s pick when he came into the final kilometre with former team-mate ‘Chente’ Garcia Acosta, a stage winner on a not dissimilar stage to this four years ago in Draguignan. Bigger and more experienced, Garcia Acosta was probably as confident as the rest of us that he would win the sprint, and had no qualms about letting Mercado manoeuvre him to the front. He watched and waited for Mercado to make his final effort, but was caught doing more of the latter than the former when the Quick Step climber finally made his move. The bigger man’s slight hesitation was enough to let the elated Mercado get clear for his first Tour stage win, while Garcia Acosta threatened to break his bars in two with frustration as he crossed the finish line in the worst position of all. The pair had been part of a break that started with eight rider going clear after nine kilometres. Two of them punctured soon after and dropped back to the bunch, leaving Sbastian Joly (Crdit Agricole), Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Marc Lotz (Rabobank) and Dmitri Fofonov (Cofidis). These six pushed ahead quite successfully for a while, but then found themselves being chased down by a surprising two-man combine. Filippo Simeoni tried to get across from the bunch and found himself being tracked by the yellow jersey himself. The Italian is, of course, pursuing a case against Armstrong for defamation, and the race leader was clearly determined not to allow the Domina Vacanze rider any glory at all during a race the American has dominated. The pair got across to the leaders and helped push things on for a few kilometres, by which point the lead was more than two minutes on a bunch being rapidly speeded up by T-Mobile. Knowing the presence of the yellow jersey would spell disaster for the break, Garcia Acosta had a word with Simeoni, who eased off. Armstrong followed suit and the pair fell back to a grateful peloton, which settled into a more pleasant pace. The leading six worked together until the final climb of the stage, 15km from the finish, when Mercado jumped clear and Garcia Acosta quickly joined him. Eleven minutes after Mercado had beaten his compatriot for Spain’s second stage win of the race, the bunch was led in by Thor Hushovd, who just beat off Robbie McEwen and pulled a point closer to the Australian. Eleven points separate them, and for the third year in a row the points title will be decided on the Champs Elyses in the race’s final sprint.