Neo-pro Brice Feillu (Agritubel) proved the strongest rider today from a group of nine riders who reached the Arcalis climb together after being at the head of the race for neatly 200km.

The 23-year-old Frenchman, waited until the 6km to go banner before attacking the others in the break and hammering into the headwind to the summit finish.

Race newbie Feillu wins Stage7.
Race newbie Feillu wins Stage7.

Said Feillu;

“I believed I had a chance, as it was a finale to my taste, with four kilometres to go the gap was still the same, about 10 seconds, I think.

“Then it increased about 10 seconds every kilometre, but in the last kilometre it went down again and I got really frightened. I really dug deep then.”

Italian Nocentini finished 26 seconds behind.

Here at VeloVeritas, we have a weakness for fraternal storylines, and the Feillu clan are both the sort of appealing underdogs that make for great brotherly drama. One is a feisty, fearless sprinter with a great backstory of overcoming a severe leg injury requiring five operations to correct, the other a spindly young neo-pro climber in his first Tour.

Together on the tiny Agritubel team, they are thumbing their noses at the might of the big teams with a yellow jersey and now a stage win between them. “It made me cry….I believed in him,” said an emotional Romain after Brice’s unlikely triumph thrilled the French fans (among others) today.

Brice wants to take the polka dot jersey to Paris, and we hope he does. It would hopefully provide quite a refreshing contrast to the sleazy polka dot jersey winners of recent years like Kohl or Rasmussen.

It’s also interesting to consider how some young riders arrive in the pro peloton and just deliver wins right from the start, while others who seem fully capable and talented enough, take years of time to “develop.” Are the truly talented riders the ones who can just win from the start? Or is it normal for great riders to take years to mature and grow into their potential?

Ed Hood

Rinaldo Nocentini, will know to savour the maillot jaune experience this morning; it will only last one day.

His legs will still have that breakaway in them and the ‘Heads’ will be sniping at each other, again — it’s unlikely he’ll survive on that slender margin.

But a rider can dine out for a long time on a day in yellow; no probs with a contract for 2010, then.

He’s not a bad rider, 3rd at the Junior Worlds in ’95; 2nd at the Espoirs Worlds in ‘98; stage wins at Langkawi in ’99; Giro della Toscana ’03; Tour of Poland stage ’04; Subida al Naranco in ’05; three Italian semi-classics in ’06; GP Indurain in ’07; GP Lugano in ’08.

And another rare bird; an Italian on a French team — Italian or not, the sponsor will be delighted, a French team in yellow doesn’t happen every day.

Brice Feillu — brother Romain blew it in Barca on Thursday with a ludicrously early effort in the sprint which resulted in his nearly stopping dead in the middle of the road.

But young Brice’s effort was perfectly timed; if you have to pick one race to have your first pro victory in — make it a Tour mountain stage.

Let’s just hope that he keeps his feet on the ground and the French Media retain some sort of balance; not touting him as another Hinault.

Instead of easing into the weekend, I was running aboot daft on Friday afternoon, but I caught the last 20 minutes or so of the stage on le box de goggle.

Cancellara is dropped and loses yellow.
Cancellara is dropped and loses yellow.

Fabian accepted the end of his tenure en jaune with dignity; Evans attacked, albeit too close to the finish to have any real effect – but maybe he’s working on the old Scots principle that “monay a meikle maks a muckle” – and Alberto showed his mettle.

It was too close to the finish to be a Merckx-like imposition of will, but it sent a big message to a certain gentleman from the Lone Star State.

Bert’s attack was “majorly impressive” (copyright Sean Kelly) — dancing light on the pedals, quick, clean, oozing class; he even had to freewheel on a corner because he was going so fast.

Wiggins continues to impress me, the change in him is simply amazing — from the gruppetto last year to jousting with Lance and his Astana Happy Gang, this year.

Nothing settled, but good stuff and it’s early days yet.

And remember that the only thing in the mini bar fridges these days is water; there are no ‘oil changes’ in 2009— we hope!

Ciao, ciao.

Al Hamilton

600,000 people on the route of the Tour in Cataluña yesterday.

That’s the headline in AS this morning – that, and the start town of Gerona doubled its population from 94,000 to 180,000 as: the workers on the new AVE (fast train) line stopped work to watch the race and wave at the camera.

"It was my day, but..." says Oscar.
"It was my day, but..." says Óscar.

On a sporting front; the other headlines are “Se cruzó Hushovd. El noruego impidio la Victoria de Oscar Freire en Barcelona”. It says the cut or cross of Hushovd, but they don’t mean that he switched Freire, just that he impeded the chance of Oscar Freire victory. Freire thought it was his day, but just didn’t have it in his legs.

Hushovd: “Voy a pelear por el maillot verde” – I’m going to fight for the green jersey, it was a nervous and without a moment of rest. Everyone at Cervelo will help Sastre to reacquire the yellow jersey.

Happy Birthday Bahamontes .
Happy Birthday Frederico.

Winner of the Tour 50 years ago; Frederico Bahamontes, was celebrating his 81st birthday in Barcelona. Homenaje al “Aguila de Toledo”. He was presented a large birthday cake by Bernard Hinault and Thevenet.

Today’s stage should show who has it and who has just been showboating on the flat stages, bring it on!

:¡Hasta luego! Al.

Tour 09 Stage 7 Map.
Tour 09 Stage 7 Map.
Tour 09 Stage 7 Profile.
Tour 09 Stage 7 Profile.

gord-thumbGordan Cameron

You go all the way to Arcalis and then just below the summit of the climb you meet someone who knows Ed Hood. It takes the biscuit.

Having missed out on scoping the climb yesterday, we made it today, and in good time too.

It was a gorgeous day for the climbs to make their first real appearance this year, but we’ve seen plenty of the Norwegians and their numbers seem to be multiplying all the time.

Some climb!
Some climb!

Long after the race had finished, we could still hear the few of them who were still capable of standing belting out their raucous anthems. I wonder if Kurt-Asle Arvesen’s ears are still ringing? They made quite a racket when we passed them on the way down from the summit.

We went over to check out some Lion Rampant flags and found: Norman Skene, from Aberdeen. Some of you will probably know him, and in fact Ed and Martin used to race against him. I reckon Norman would be happy to take on the guys once more … have I thrown down the gauntlet on his behalf?

Feillu showed fantastically well for a first-time Tour rider, hanging on to win the stage.
Feillu showed fantastically well for a first-time Tour rider, hanging on to win the stage.

The press room was 4.5 kms from the top so we saw a fair chunk of the race on TV then went out onto the climb to see the riders go by. Brice Feillu had just attacked and was pulling clear out of the tunnel — AG2R had two in the break deciding whether to chase him or just try to get Nocentini to the top with a sniff of the yellow jersey.

Then the big boys loomed into view, hunched together like a coven of multicolored witches. Lance with his poker face at the front, Contador just behind, Andy Schleck looking like a primary seven kid on the senior football team’s pitch, and Andreas Kloden gliding silently along behind.

The sprinters were having a day off, and there was plenty of laughing and joking as they cruised the final climb. Cav was happy to keep his green jersey as Hushovd was with him in the same group.

The autobus knows it's going to make the time limit okay.
The autobus knows it's going to make the time limit okay.

It was another few minutes before Angelo Furlan crawled past … last man in the race. The small pocket of teenagers wandering back down the road paused to give him a chorus of ‘Allez! Allez!’ — Furlan couldn’t even move his eyes from the road, and probably couldn’t even hear them.

This is the Tour de France — the strong thrive and survive, the rest just wait for a better day. I’m just hoping I can get over the horror of watching one guy, dressed as a gendarme from the waist up and an on-duty stripper from the waist down, tottering up the final kilometres.

What a start to the hills.