Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel finally handed his Cofidis team a well-deserved leaving gift by winning the 19th stage of the Tour de France between Roanne and Montlucon on Friday.
Spaniard Carlos Sastre of CSC retained the race lead after the 165.5km stage, ahead of his anticipated yellow jersey duel with Australia’s Cadel Evans in the penultimate stage time trial.
Chavanel, who has recently signed with the Belgian team Quick Step, has been one of the most attacking riders in the peloton over the past three weeks.
After launching another attack far from the finish line, the 29-year-old found himself with compatriot Jeremy Roy for company.
The pair collaborated together to increase their lead and eventually came into the finale with a 2 minute, 30 second lead on the bunch and ready for a duel to the finish.
In the final kilometer Roy, who rides for the Francaise des Jeux team of Chavanel’s brother Sebastien, stuck tightly on his wheel.
But a steady acceleration over the final 200m gave Chavanel the edge he needed to keep the frantic Roy, pedaling furiously behind him, from stealing the win.
Despite his 29 years it has taken until this season for Chavanel to finally show his massive potential, which Quick Step have been quick to recognize having signed him on a two-year deal a few days ago.
It was no surprise Chavanel, after years of trying, came over the finish celebrating his maiden Tour win wildly.
“This just confirms my great start to the season,” said Chavanel, who showed his prowess in the spring by winning two well-known Flemish one-day classic races. “I would never have believed it this morning because last night I had problems with my back. Now, I’m the happiest man in the world.”
Sastre will start the 53km time trial with a 1 minute, 34 seconds lead on Evans and with the benefit of starting last in the field.
The 33-year-old Spaniard said he will also be paying close attention to the time splits of his teammate Fabian Cancellara, a two-time world champion in the race against the clock, in a bid to gauge his efforts.
“Tomorrow’s the most important day for me, but the fact I’m starting last from the field should help me,” said Sastre, who took the race lead after winning the 17th stage to Alpe d’Huez on Wednesday. “I’ll be paying close attention to Cancellara’s times because he will be the big reference for everyone. For me, the pressure is on Evans. He is the one who has to try and win the yellow jersey tomorrow.”
An attack by Chavanel’s teammate Leonardo Duque after 100km was chased down by some of the teams in the peloton, who were hopeful of taking the contest to a bunch sprint.
Chavanel had already shown his determination early in the stage and when he attacked again shortly after Duque had been reeled in he was finally allowed to go.
“I attacked and for a while I was racing at 65 kph just to increase the gap,” said Chavanel, who in recent weeks has been caught several times by the peloton while close to the finish line. “It’s the first time I’ve managed to take one of my breakaways on this race all the way. It just shows, if you keep at it, you can succeed.”
Spaniard Oscar Freire, meanwhile, took an almost unassailable lead in the points competition, whose prize is the green jersey.
Despite giving up nine points to Germany’s six-time winner Erik Zabel and three points to Norway’s 2005 green jersey champion Thor Hushovd at the finish line, Freire took 15 points of his own to finish on a tally of 244.