Paulinho triumphs in Gap
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Wednesday’s 10th stage of the Tour de France brought some consolation for America’s Lance Armstrong, who only last Saturday conceded that his race for an eighth and final overall victory was over. In his heyday, Armstrong was the only man in his various teams to win stages, but in Gap, Portgual’s Sérgio Paulinho gave Armstrong’s Radio Shack team its first Tour victory.
Paulinho, an Olympic silver medalist who also won his first ever stage, was part of an escape group of six riders from which he eventually managed to break in the company of Vasil Kiriyienka of Belarus. But it was Paulinho who proved the stronger rider and he was the first over the finished line after the final sprint in Gap.
Personally recruited by Lance Armstrong, Paulinho described this first ever Tour victory as the highlight of career. He is only the fourth Portuguese to win a Tour stage, and the first since 1989.
The stage between Chambery and Gap taking the riders out of the Alps was not only marked by steep hill climbs and descents, but also the heat which has been omnipresent since the start. At times the temperature was over 33 degrees Celsius, and the ground temperature recorded at over 50 degrees.
In such conditions it is not unusual for the riders to consume up to ten litres of water each in just one stage.
As the Tour de France gets back onto flat ground again and gives the sprinters some more time to have fun, all eyes are still firmly fixed on the this year’s two main Tour de France contenders, Alberto Contador of Spain and Andy Schlek of Luxembourg.
Schlek continues to lead the race, but Contador is only 41 seconds behind. Both have said they are determined to win, but only Schlek has admitted that at times Contador may be stronger than him.
Schlek says the race may even be easier with only one person to contend with. But most agree both riders are as strong as each other and that the final fight will most likely take place during the four Pyrenees mountain stages, which begin on Sunday.
But complacency can be fatal in the Tour de France, especially taking it for granted that you have won the race before you reach the Champs Elysees in Paris. Accidents and mechanical problems happen, and just behind Contador and Schlek are several other determined riders who would be only too happy to take their places.
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