New Favorites Emerge With Every Passing Stage

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

CANNES, France — At first, it was unsettling to be so unsure who would take control of this year’s Tour de France. With its top five finishers from last year out of contention, forecasting the next would-be king of the peloton became a sort of sport in itself.

Now, 10 stages into a race that has already reached the mountains and still has provided no clear leader, it is downright comical. The same cycling gurus interviewed on television who usually shout over each other to make their theories heard, are now silent when asked who will take over as the competition’s man to beat.

“With the Pyrenees, we shall know!” proclaimed France’s number one sport daily, L‚Equipe, on the front page yesterday morning. In a usual Tour, that goes without saying. In this Tour, it is better left unsaid.

Instead of a newly crowned favorite charging to the fore yesterday, two outsiders made an early break in the 190km stage from Cambo-les-Bains to Pau, and never looked back. Juan Miguel Mercado and Cyril Dessel broke away from the peloton at roughly the 40km mark, then battled it out over two major climbs through a dense, cool fog. By the time they had crested the second slope and made a couple of test-taps on their brakes, it was clear this one would end in a head-to-head downhill duel and a full out sprint for the finish.

When it was over, Mercado had barely stolen the stage,while Dessel earned the overall lead, finishing in front of the peloton by 7:23. Dessel won both the climbing champion’s polka-dot jersey and the tour leader’s jersey along the way, the first time in two years a Frenchman has worn yellow.All this from a guy who, until yesterday, would have had to provide an ID with his credit card in a French cycling shop.

Dessel’s superb result cleared up at least one question on this bizarre Tour de France, namely who will take over the leadership of the T-Mobile squad. Now that Ukraine’s Serhiy Honchar has been stripped of his yellow jersey (the one thing that kept him in command of the German squad) it seems clear that Andreas Kloden — the second-place finisher in 2004 and the team’s most accomplished climber — will take over. Kloden now stands in ninth place, 5:35 behind Dessel.

It was an outstanding performance by both the Frenchman and the Spaniard, and it served to underline that no one is truly in charge of the peloton this year. Back when seven-time champion Lance Armstrong was defending his titles, he not only dominated the pack, he controlled it. If, in Armstrong’s day, Dessel and Mercado were considered even outside contenders, it is unlikely that they would have been granted a 10-minute lead.

Certainly, before yesterday, no one would have put those two men in the same category as Kloden, Floyd Landis, Cadel Evans, or any other rider now considered a favorite. But it is becoming increasingly evident that, in a race like this, almost anything can happen. The five minutes that Dessel enjoys over Landis, for example, or the six minutes by which he leads New York’s George Hincapie, are not insignificant gaps.

To put things in perspective, though, the climb through the mountains has only just begun.Today, the riders suffer a 206km trek through the high Pyrenees, from Tarbes to Val d’Aran. It includes four first-category climbs, and the Col du Tourmalet, beyond-category. If not a new leader, it will at least provide excitement.

The New York Sun

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