MASTER TACTICIAN EARLEY
Martin Earley’s name now joins the exclusive list of Tour de France stage winners after his climactic victory from a four-man break on the eve of the first mountain stage at Pau on Sunday.
With perfect judgement, Earley (PDM) attacked uphill through the town with 700 metres to go to win by four seconds.
Second was French champion Eric Caritoux (RMO), third Australia’s Michael Wilson (Helvetia) and fourth Philippe Louviot (Z-Peugeot), whose brave lone bid to win ended when the three breakaway companions he had not long deserted reclaimed him on the outskirts of the town.
Two others narrowly missed making the junction, but were close enough to see Earley’s sudden and convincing attack. They were Laurent Bezault (Toshiba) fifth, at eight seconds and Valerio Tebaldi (Chateau D’Ax) sixth in the same time.
And hurrying in too late as usual – there is yet to be a bunch sprint for first place in this Tour – came the main pack from which Holland’s Steven Rooks completed PDM’s good day by winning the bunch sprint for seventh, shadowed by his team-mate, points leader Sean Kelly, eighth.
Earley, 27, is no ordinary domestique. The Dubliner won a mountain stage of the 1986 Tour of Italy and when team duties have permitted, he has been a force in several breaks in the big Tours.
And so three years on, the name Earley makes the headlines again. It was a traditional Tour de France start from the old town of La Bastide D’Armagnac 138 kilometres south of Bordeaux.
Deafened by brass bands, delighted by the infant majorettes all dressed in blue, and finally blessed by the cycling fanatic priest shod in trainers, the 188 riders began their eighth stage,
And then they were immediately held up by a demonstration against nuclear power. So 15 minutes later than the advertised 12.25 start, the Tour rolled out.
By Mancet (65 kilometres) Caritoux, Wilson and Earley had gained 50 metres and with dogged determination held this for six kilometres, before finally pulling away from the field.
Wilson was the best placed overall, 17th at 5-3. Earley, by contrast, was 98th at 13-14, and his win moved him to 97th for the main contenders saw to it that they gained little time.
Louviot counter-attacked from the main field seven kilometres later, at Nogaro, and closed a 35-second gap in 14 kilometres to make it four men in front. The main field was at 2-50.
The four worked smoothly and well. But then the ADR team once again sprang into action to limit their gains on behalf of their race leader Greg LeMond.
The pursuit intensified when Laurent Fignon attacked just after the Cote de Simacours (132km), one of four fourth-category climbs.
It looked bad for the four escapees when their lead came down to one minute with 20 kilometres to go. And as the situation deteriorated and the pack closed, Louviot made what appeared to be the smart move 14 kilometres from the finish.
Race followers agreed, there goes the winner. But Earley, Caritoux and Wilson had different ideas. And they swept him up through the wide sweeping bends in Pau where the whole race looked as if it was coming back together.
Caritoux stopped working as Louviot was caught, and Earley saw his chance, jumping hard for his first stage win in the Tour, a classic move that gave him plenty of time to lift both hands high in the air in salute.