A general lack of cooperation among the sprinter's teams allowed a group of seven riders to stay away to the finish, but the first rider across the line, Saxo Bank's Niki Sorensen didn't wait around to sprint with his breakmates. His solo attack in the closing kilometers brought Saxo Bank it's second stage win after Cancellara's victory in Monaco.
I was a day for opportunities as the AG2R-La Mondiale team had to spend most of day at the front riding for their man in yellow, Rinaldo Nocentini, as the sprinter's teams just couldn't coordinate a chase effort to bring back the breakaway. While Nocentini kept the jersey, it was a lost day for the Cavendish, Farrar, Hushovd, et. al. as the stage profile clearly called for a bunch finish. But, that's why they ride each day, just to see who has been reading all the journalists' prognostications.
Clearly, Mark Cavendish is the class of the sprinters and my guess is that the other teams with sprinters such as Garmin-Slipstream and Cervelo Test Team decided not to do any work at the front just so 'Cav' could get another win. With two riders in contention for the overall, I can see why Garmin-Slipstream might have chosen not to ride, but it is a bit of a pity as their fastman, Tyler Farrar, came oh, so close to winning yesterday. But, the third week of the Tour is, as Lance Armstrong put it 'sinister', and as we reach the Alps in just three days maybe all eyes are looking at the mountains.
Jens Voigt are you listening? This is your opportunity to go for stage win!
Nicolas Roche has some big shoes to fill being the son of Irishman Stephen Roche who won the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and the World Road Championship all in the same year, 1987. He is riding his first Tour, and sporting the jersey of the Irish National road champion, for AG2R-La Mondiale team who just happen to have the yellow jesey. I talked with him about his Tour experience.
Bruce: what is it like riding for Rinaldo in yellow?
Nicolas: for me it is a fantastic experience. It is my first Tour and straight away I have the opportunity to ride for the yellow jersey. Some riders never do that in their whole career. Of course, that puts a big stop on my own personal motivations, but it is my first Tour so everything is going all right. I had my chances in the first week in the sprints. Now there are two more weeks to go and lots of chances to get into the breakaways.
Bruce: What is the biggest thing you have learned so far?
Nicolas: I suppose that when you are riding the Tour you are either riding to be top ten in GC or the most important thing is to try and save you energy for the next day to give it a go in the breakaways. You can't win the sprint because of Cavendish and there are too many other good sprinters. If you wait for a mountain top finish there is Contador, Armstrong and so many others. There are not many possibilities to get a stage win which is the dream of everybody who comes to the Tour, I think.
While Serge Borlee is currently Cadel Evans' bodyguard, he has preformed the same duty for Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and Alexandre Vinokourov. I thought there would be a bidding war for Serge's services when Lance announced his comeback, but it didn't happen. Hopefully, we are buddies now and he won't hurt me!
Bruce: what are your duties as a bodyguard?
Serge: Every morning I bring him to the start line for the sign in. I make sure nothing happens to him before the race starts.
Bruce: some people don't know your background. You are an ex-Belgian policeman.
Serge: I am not an ex, I am still a policeman. This is my holiday. I take my holiday to do the Tour de France.
Bruce: Cadel is a bit different this year than last year. He is more friendly.
Serge: Last year they put too much pressure on him to make him win the Tour de France and it was too stressful for him. But, this year I think he is in better shape than last year and he's looking good.
Bruce: have you ever had to take somebody down while protecting a rider?
Serge: In 2005 I got in a fight with the police in Paris when I was protecting Lance. Put my name in YouTube and you will see.
Bruce: of all the riders you have worked with, who was the best to work for?
Serge: Cadel. It is less stressful. He's a nice guy.
Last time I talked with Rabobank Director Sportif (DS) Erik Breukink was in Rome during the final TT of the Giro. The team was on a definite high as they were just hours away from wining the Giro D'Italia. Here at the Tour, their luck has been going in the opposite direction. As I predicted, I didn't think Menchov could recover from the Giro and he hasn't. The their hope for the white jersey and possibly the overall, Robert Gesink(pronounced Hesink, just like Houda not Gouda cheese) crashed and had to retire with a broken wrist.
Bruce: with Gesink out and Menchov apparently not recovered from the Giro are you looking to stage wins?
Erik: a stage win is important, for sure. Gesink for the mountains was our guy. Menchov is getting a litle bit better, but it is difficult for him to move up on GC because he is so far behind. Stage wins are important now.
Lost in all the attention given to Lance Armstrong's comeback is the obvious dilemma facing the Texan's long-time bodyguard Serge Borlee. If you didn't know, Serge is a former Belgian policeman, hired by Armstrong to protect him most notably during the rolling chaos that is the Tour de France. Lance had very real death threats and with rather lax security at stage starts and finishes it seemed prudent to have someone watching Armstrong's back.
Now that Lance has been re-united with his long-time director and close friend, Johan Bruyneel, and his F1 speed team (Steve Hed, Scott Daubert, the boys from Giro, etc.) will Serge be returning to Armstrong's posse? Judging from all the recent attention from the media and fans, Lance is still as popular as ever so the need for some extra security is probably warranted.
The problem is that Serge was pretty darn good at his job. So darn good, that after Lance retired, Alexander Vinokourov hired Serge to watch his back. After Vino retired, prematurely, from the sport in 2007, Australian Cadel Evans hired Serge's services for his 2008 Tour de France bid. I was on the receiving end of a not-so-friendly push from Serge when I attempted to talk to Cadel before the start of the stage from Bourg d'Oisans to St. Etienne. I hope you can believe me when I tell you that I meant no harm to Cadel. I was just trying to ask him when on the ascent of l'Alpe d'Huez, did he realize that he had to chase Carlos Sastre.
So, what about Serge? Just when you thought it might be an easy decision, a seven-time Tour winner versus a Tour whiner, along comes the news that Vino is looking to return to professional cycling. What's a bodyguard to do? Please don't ask Kevin Costner. I am certain he is trying to forget that on-screen performance.
But, seriously, where is a bodyguard's loyalties? Can Tony Soprano help us out here? Or is it just a case of who is offering the most compensation. Not that I am contemplating a job in personal protection, I would just like to know how Serge is going to decide for whom is he prepared to take a bullet. Also, It would be good to know so I can tell my editor who I am not going to be interviewing at the 2009 Tour as I bruise easily.