Posted by Editoress on 07/26/03
Tour de l'Abitibi Stage 6
Kevin Lacombe (Equipe Quebec) has held onto his leader's jersey for another day, although France's Anthony Jaunet moved up another spot into third, as he inches closer every stage through time bonuses. The 116 kilometre stage began inauspiciously with heavy rain, thunder and lightening. This did not reduce the crowd in the small town of Amos, who came to see their own born and bred Kevin Lacombe in the lead.
Attacks began almost immediately, and the wind, combined with the driving rain, put many riders in difficulty early in the stage. An echelon formed at the front, then a death line stretched out behind, as riders struggled to stay in contact. A second echelon did eventually form, but it was too late for some riders - the broom wagon was full, and a call went out over race radio requesting any vehicle that had room to pick up abandoning riders.
The pace backed off after 20 kilometres, as the riders prepared for the first of three intermediate sprints. The sprint was at the top of short climb, and Lacombe went on the offensive, using his time trialling strength to power up to the top, with Jaunet struggling to stay on his wheel. If the finish had been at the top, Lacombe would have added a second to his lead, but as the leaders crested the rise they hesitated, looking for the white flag that should have been there. Instead, it was 100 metres past the crest, and Jaunet managed to dive by Lacombe to take the 3 second bonus, with the Brown Jersey getting the two seconds bonus. Ontario's Brandon Crichton took third place for one second.
The rain was finally slackening, and the next sprint wasn't for 50 kilometres, so the pace backed off. At 51 kilometres, Keith Norris (Team USA) established the first serious gap, going as high as 30 seconds in front. Joined briefly by Kai Winkelbauer (Germany), and by Rob Ruigh (Rabobank-Netherlands) for 10 kilometres, Norris was finally reeled in on a gradual climb after 15 kilometres off the front.
Jurgen Roelandts (Belgium-Sweet Paradise) immediately counter-attacked, establishing a 16 second gap after 4 kilometres. It stuck here until Ben Damhoff (ISCorp) and Sipke Zijlstra (Rabobank-Netherlands) joined him, and the three immediately began to open up a more serious lead.
The gap would reach a maximum of 1:22, making Roelandts the leader on the road. Behind, the chase was slow to get organized, partially because Quebec was content to let the leaders take the time bonuses, keeping them away from serious rivals like Jaunet and Matt Crane (Hot Tubes), who was in second place overall, only 9 seconds behind Lacombe after the first intermediate sprint.
However, eventually the field did begin to pull them back, with Roelandts staving off capture until the last of the 6 finishing circuits in Val d'Or. Out of the final corner, it was Kai Reus (Rabobank-Netherlands), with Mathieu Chiocca (France) on his wheel. The pair had a slight gap to the line, with Jaunet taking the field sprint, and another 4 seconds off Lacombe's lead. Reus jumps into fourth place with his stage win, 17 seconds behind, with stage 4 time trial winner Steven Cozza (USA) dropping to fifth at 20 seconds and Ontario's Brandon Crichton to sixth at 32 seconds. Reus is another serious threat, since he is currently second overall in the Junior World Challenge series (of which Abitibi is part).
Jaunet said that the French team will continue to follow this tactic as the race enters the final two stages. "Every day our goal is to get some time during the race, and more at the end. It would have been better to catch the break earlier, but with the rain and the wind, it was hard on the legs and we did not want to chase too hard. It took a while to get organized, and Quebec did not seem to have good team tactics today - they almost lost the jersey, I think."
Lacombe pointed to the Dutch as the reason for the slow chase. "I wasn't surprised that the gap would get so large, because we wanted the break to win the intermediate seconds, and I knew that it would come back on the criterium circuit. Our goal is to protect the jersey, and we were working for this, but it was difficult with the Dutch team interfering with and breaking up the chase. I will do my best to keep the jersey - all the people of Abitibi are behind me."
- During our Road Nationals coverage we reported that Lacombe was primarily a hockey player in the Quebec Junior ranks, who took up cycling for fitness training. He has now announced that he is switching to cycling as his primary sport.
- Jaunet has high praise for the Tour de l'Abitibi. The winner of the French National Challenge series said "this is like the Tour de France for us. It has the folklore, the protocols, the organization - it is a very good experience."
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