Bradley Wiggins and his Cofidis squad gave it everything they could, but were unable to hold on to the leader?s jersey in Tuesday?s stage of the Dauphine Libere.
Like the rest of the field, Wiggins was no match for an ultra-strong Christophe Moreau on the treacherously hilly run-in of stage two to St. Etienne.
Up until 35 kilometres from the finale, it had all been looking good for Wiggins, as a day-long break by Jerome Pineau (Bouygues) and Aliaksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas) was slowly but surely being reeled in. Hard work by Gerolsteiner and Quick Step showed that they were interested in a bunch sprint.
But then things began to go pear-shaped as young Quick Step pro Kevin Seeldrayers attacked on the third category climb of Saint-Romain-les-Atheux, followed by Christophe Moreau (Ag2R) and Jose Antonio Redondo (Astana).
The trio caught and dropped the two riders ahead, with Moreau constantly forcing the pace. By the time they reached the 12 kilometre long final drop into St. Etienne, the three were around a minute ahead of the bunch. Wiggins was still there, and had even chased the move in person, but the gap was stubbornly refusing to come down.
?If there had been anything but a fast, long descent to the finish, where two or three riders always go as fast as the bunch, then we might have pulled them back.? Cofidis team manager Erik Boyer told CW. ?As it was, the combination of a super-strong Moreau and that descent put paid to Bradley?s chances of keeping the jersey.?
Clearly the strongest rider of the three ahead, Moreau?s chances of winning increased even further when Seeldrayers chain broke four kilometres from the finale. At the finish, Redondo did not even bother to challenge the Frenchman, who soared across the line for both the stage win and the overall lead.
The bunch came in at 33 seconds, led by Spanish star Alejandro Valverde: ?He wanted to check he hadn?t lost his ability to win sprints.? Caisse D?Epargne manager Eusebio Unzue told CW. ?And he hasn?t.?
?Bradley shouldn?t be at all ashamed he?s lost the jersey today.? Boyer insisted. ?We?re more than satisfied with what he?s acheived in the Dauphine, and who knows what he can do in tomorrow?s time trial??
40.7 kilometres long, Boyer admitted the hilly time trial ?is a bit long for Bradley. Really, a top six performance would be great, but he?s already shown in the prologue ? and in his defence of the jersey yesterday – that he?s on track for the Tour.?
Liquigas’s Magnus Backstedt had a tough day. After a virus knocked him out of the Tour of Catalonia, he finished 16 minutes down and third last on Tuesday?s stage.
DAUPHINE LIBERE: STAGE TWO, SAINT-PAUL-EN-JAREZ – ST. ETIENNE
1 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Ag2R 157 km in 3-50-38
2 Jose Antonio Redondo (Spa) Astana at st
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse D?Epargne at 33sec
4 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole
5 Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Geroslteiner
6 Anthony Geslin (Fra) Bouygues
7 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis
8 Phillipe Gilbert (Bel) Francaise des Jeux
9 Alexandre Botcharov (Rus) Credit Agricole
10 Marcel Sielberg (Ger) Milram
26 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Cofidis
70 David Millar (GBr) Saunier Duval-Prodir all st
1 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Ag2R 9-30-42
2 Jose Antonio Redondo (Spa) Astana at 7sec
3 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Cofidis at 24sec
4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery at 25sec
5 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana at 26sec
6 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery at st
7 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse D?Epargne at 27sec
8 Dave Zabriskie (USA) CSC at st
9 Egoi Martinez (Spa) Discovery at 29 sec
10 Sebastian Joly (Fra) Francaise des Jeux at 30 sec
11 David Millar (GBr) Saunier Duval-Prodir at st.