Lourdes miracle evades Roy as Hushovd powers to victory
There have been 68 'confirmed' miracles in Lourdes over the past 150 years but it would have needed a 69th for Frenchman Jeremy Roy to get home ahead of inspired road racing world champion Thor Hushovd as they raced for the finishing line close to the Grotto yesterday.
The muscular Norwegian is known for his sprinting but has always been a considerable all-round talent and it was his skill at descent, as he threw himself down the Aubisque, that earned him this victory and broke Roy's heart for a second consecutive day.
The bemused and disbelieving Frenchman crossed the line with the air of a man who had just seen one of the many apparitions for which Lourdes is renowned.
Legendary downhill skier Franz Klammer will never have gone down the Hahnenkamm with more daring and elan than Hushovd showed yesterday.
The Garmin Cervelo rider used all his weight, skill and uncanny ability to pick the line to swoop down certain sections at just under 60mph to claim the eighth Tour de France stage win of a distinguished career.
The hyperactive Roy had spent a hot sweaty Bastille Day on Thursday working like a dog in the break over the Tourmalet, only to fade on the final ascent to Luz Ardiden, and took off again yesterday at the foot of the Aubisque to build an 'impregnable' lead over Hushovd -- in excess of two minutes -- and fellow Frenchman David Moncoutie at the Col du Soulor, the satellite summit of the Aubisque.
With just 30km to go, Roy, a considerable descendeur himself, had every chance but Thor was about to apply the hammer. He is not overly flash and you will look in vain for those elegant Fabian Cancellara-style wide knee spreads as he leans into a corner.
But what you do get is pure unadulterated speed. That 13 stone-plus rugby player's frame he drags up the mountains comes into play as Hushovd sets himself atop the handlebars, grips the bike frame with his knees and lets gravity do its stuff.
He caught Moncoutie in no time but then, as the road flattened out, Hushovd had a big decision to make. Still a minute behind, it would be touch and go on his own. A brief conversation ensued and, rather reluctantly you felt, Moncoutie agreed to work against his fellow Frenchman.
When the world champion comes knocking and the sporting world is watching live on TV, the wise rider thinks twice before slamming the door in his face. Moncoutie is a wise man, though in truth his contribution was modest to say the least.
The die was cast and at 3km Hushovd took his leave of Moncoutie and finished the job off in style, chasing with an exhausted Roy fading to third behind Moncoutie. Not usually the most demonstrative man, Hushovd let it all hang out as he crossed the line.
"This is my most beautiful win, I did not think it was possible," the Norwegian said. "The Aubisque is so difficult and I am a heavy rider. When you wear the rainbow (world champion's) jersey you have the eyes of the world looking at you and people expect a lot. I did not succeed as I wanted to in the Classics, but it has been great to wear the jersey at the front of a stage on this Tour.
"If I had gone for the green jersey this year perhaps I could have won it but I did not have the chance, but when I look back that is okay for me.
"It is less stress and I can race 100pc for stage wins and I got to wear the yellow jersey for seven days, which for me is better than winning the green."
As for the peloton, they hoisted the "do not disturb" sign early on, with all the big hitters conserving energy ahead of today's much anticipated shoot-out on the mountain-fest between Saint-Gaudens and the Plateau de Beille.
There was some activity at the intermediate sprint where Jose Rojas nicked back one point on Mark Cavendish, but the only significant movement in the points competition came with Philippe Gilbert gamely hanging on for 10th in the stage itself to claw back six points on Cavendish. (© Daily Telegraph, London)