July 12, 2006

Dessel claims yellow and polka-dot jerseys

By Jean-Paul Couret

PAU, France (Reuters) - Frenchman Cyril Dessel claimed the
yellow jersey on Wednesday at the end of the first mountain
stage of the Tour de France, won by Spaniard Juan Miguel

After 190.5 km from Cambo-les-Bains to Pau, the two men
crossed the line 56 seconds ahead of third-placed Inigo
Landaluze and 7:23 in front of the peloton and overnight race
leader, Serhiy Honchar.

"I have the yellow jersey and the (climbers's) polka dot
jersey, I can be satisfied with my day even if I didn't win the
stage," said Dessel, who became the first Frenchman to don
yellow since Thomas Voeckler in 2004.

"I didn't want to let Mercado win because a stage win in
the Tour is something rare. If I had won the stage it would
have been a perfect day."

Dessel of the AG2R team, Mercado, leader of Agritubel, and
Spain's Landaluze (Euskaltel) were among a group of 15 riders
who broke away around the 40-km mark, just before the first
climb of the day, the third-category Col d'Osquich.

The 32-year-old Dessel started the stage in 28th position
overall, 3:50 behind Ukrainian Honchar.


The Osquich pass was a warm-up before the riders faced the
hors category Col du Soudet and it's long ascent on a narrow
road with a 10 percent gradient over the last kilometre.

At the back of the race, specialist climber Iban Mayo, who
finished sixth overall in the 2003, cracked. He was joined by
Belgian world champion Tom Boonen, Frenchmen Sandy Casar and
Jimmy Casper, winner of the first stage, and prologue victor
Thor Hushovd of Norway.

They finished the stage in the last grupetto, 24:24 off the

The lead group had to force their way through thousands of
spectators, including many Spaniards, lining the slopes of the

Dessel outsprinted Mercado at the top and the T-Mobile team
led the peloton over the fog-covered summit nine minutes later.

The gap with the peloton increased to 10:50 as the lead
group, now eight riders, reached the slopes of the
first-category Col de Marie Blanque, regarded as one of the
steepest ascents in the area with an 11 percent gradient on its
last part.

As the slope became steeper, Dessel and Mercado attacked.
Once again, the Frenchman was the strongest at the summit, to
earn the best climber's polka-dot jersey.

Dessel has a lead of 2:34 lead over Mercado for Thursday's
11th stage, which features some of the most famous Pyrenean
passes -- Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde, Portillon and the
final ascent to the summit finish at Pla de Beret, in Spain,

Among the pre-race favorites, Americans Floyd Landis and
George Hincapie are fifth and 19th overall, respectively 4:45
and 6:15 behind the Frenchman. Australian Cadel Evans is 11th,
5:37 adrift.