A massive sigh of relief is likely to be heard among the Tour de France sprinters ahead of the race’s third stage on Monday.
After two days of rolling over undulating terrain, the fast men of the peloton have more than one reason to make sure the 208km between Saint Malo and Nantes ends in a bunch sprint.
The last five kilometres of Monday’s ride is over pancake flat terrain, and it will also be one of the few occasions to put their power on display in a first week that the organisers have totally revamped in comparison to past years.
For the likes of Australian Robbie McEwen, a 12-time stage winner, the chance to unleash some top end power on the flat home straights cannot come soon enough.
“I’m looking to get a stage under my belt this week, as soon as I can,” he said.
McEwen has a slight handicap at the Tour – for the first time ever the 34-year-old three-time green jersey winner will have scant support from his team. It’s all the fault of teammate Cadel Evans’ bid for the yellow jersey, but given the stakes it’s a situation McEwen understands.
“I’ve known since last year that the team was going to be built around Cadel and the yellow jersey, although I still have my place in the team because of what I’ve done for the team over the years,” he added. “I’ve been the man for the team over many years in the Tour and a lot of other races, and brought a lot of victories to the team.
“But I’m big enough to realise that it’s a pretty unique opportunity to have a rider in your team who really can win the yellow jersey, and not just talk about it.”
McEwen has placed his almost yearly pursuit of the points competition’s green jersey down his list of priorities this year.
For now a stage win, beginning as soon as allows, is his main priority. And he’s not worried about the lack of a lead-out ‘train’, that might be enjoyed by such rivals as Britain’s Mark Cavendish, Spaniard Oscar Freire or ageing German Erik Zabel.
“Now I just pretty much have to find my own way in the sprints. In the final kilometre I’ll probably be looking for (teammate, Leif) Hoste to bring me into position but after that it’s going to up to me to go from wheel to wheel or find myself another train,” he said.
“You seem to get more options at the Tour. We finish on quite big roads in quite big towns and there’s more teams trying to help more sprinters – so it gives you more options as an individual to move up. If I could choose for a lead-out train to control things, then I would – you save a lot more energy! But it is possible to do.”
© AFP 2008…