Spain’s Juan Miguel Mercado (Agritubel) and Frenchman Cyril Dessel (Ag2r) grabbed the spotlight at end of the first mountain stage in the Pyrenees, sharing the stage win and the yellow jersey after being part of a long breakaway.
Mercado outsprinted Dessel to win in Pau, seven minutes ahead of the bunch, while the Frenchman took the yellow jersey from Sergei Gonchar (T-Mobile) and also pulled on the polka-dot climber’s jersey. He now leads Mercado by 2-54, with Gonchar third at 3-45.
All the overall contenders stayed well protected in the bunch throughout the stage, knowing it was impossible to gain time because the final climb was 40km from the finish. Only Gonchar, Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre) seemed to suffer on the Col de Soudet and the Col de Marie Blanque but they got back on during the descent and finished in the bunch.
Spain’s Iban Mayo (Euskaltel)was the big loser of the day. The Basque climber is struggling with health problems, was dropped on the early Col de Soudet and much to the dismay of the thousands of Basque fans lining the road, finished 24 minutes after Mercado and Dessel.
David Millar (Saunier Duval) finished in the second gruop, 12 minutes behind Mercado and the Scot is now 68th at 12-00. Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis) finished in 152th place with the sprinters at 24-24. He is now 148th at 38-54.
?This is a great win for me and for the team,? Mercado said after his win.
?It was a tough day because it was hard to get into the right break and then we had to go really hard to get a gap. The bunch chased us for a long time but then we finally got away.?
Mercado also won a stage in the 2004 Tour in Lons le Saunier when riding for Quick Step but struggled to find a team this year.
?Every stage win at the Tour is special. I?ll never forget my first win and I?ll never forget this one.?
Dessel in yellow gave French cycling another reason to smile after the earlier stage wins by Jimmy Casper (Cofidis) and Sylvain Calzati (Ag2r).
?The team told me to get in the break but I never imagined I?d end the day in the yellow jersey,? Dessel said.
?I was going for the polka-dot jersey but when you get in a good break you have to give it everything because you never know how far it?s going to go. Sometimes the leaders chase and some times they let you go. I worked well with Mercado because we both had something to gain. He beat me to the stage win but I got the yellow jersey. This is massive, I can hardly believe it.?
The second mountain stage in the Pyrenees on Thursday between Tarbes and Val d’Aran in Spain is expected to finally inspire the overall contenders into action. The 206.5km stage starts with the legendary Col du Tourmalet (2115 metres, 18.3km, 7.7% avg) and includes three other category one climbs before the 13km climb up to the finish.
1 Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) Agritubel 190.5km in 4.49.10
2 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance
3 Inigo Landaluze (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0.56
4 Cristian Moreni (Ita) Cofidis 2.24
5 Christophe Rinero (Fra) Saunier Duval 2.25
6 Inaki Isasi (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 5.03
7 Cédric Vasseur (Fra) Quick-Step-Innergetic 5.35
8 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Fondital 7.23
9 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
10 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas
Overall standings after stage 10
1 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance 43.07.05
2 Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) Agritubel 2.34
3 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile 3.45
4 Cristian Moreni (Ita) Cofidis 3.51
5 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 4.45
6 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 4.53
7 Inigo Landaluze (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 5.22
8 Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) T-Mobile 5.30
9 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile 5.35
10 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears 5.37