Steegmans the Champs Elysees sprint king
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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Steegmans the Champs Elysees sprint king

by Agence France-Presse at 1:19 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
Belgian Gert Steegmans made up for his Quick Step team's mediocre Tour de France campaign by sprinting to victory on the 21st and final stage here on Sunday.

Steegmans claimed his second career stage win on the race, but his first on the Champs Elysees, in timely fashion having failed to challenge the peloton's sprinters during three weeks of intense racing.

In the absence of star teammate Tom Boonen, he was led out to the finish in commanding fashion before driving for the line on his own in the final 150 metres, where he beat Germany's Gerald Ciolek of the Columbia team.

Spaniard Oscar Freire, of Rabobank, came home in third to secure his first green jersey for the race's points classification.

Steegmans has recently announced that this year will be his last with the Belgian outfit, who raced at the Tour without Boonen following the news of a positive test for cocaine in May. Katoucha, a Russian-backed team which aims to make a big impression on the peloton next year, signed up Steegmans during the Tour.

But he said that neither the pressure on him to win, or the fact he was leaving, had given him motivation here on Sunday. "I'm still with Quick Step until December 30 this year, and I hope that this won't be the last present I'll give them before I leave," he said.

Steegmans was one of several big name sprinters, including Robbie McEwen, Thor Hushovd, Freire and Erik Zabel to fail to provide a real challenge to Britain's Mark Cavendish. The 23-year-old Manxman claimed a stunning four stage wins from bunch sprints before leaving the race due to fatigue prior to the second mountains phase in the Alps.

Steegmans said some of the pressure would have been taken off his shoulders had Spanish teammate Carlos Barredo beaten Germany's Marcus Burghardt, of Columbia, in their two-man duel to the finish on stage 18. But he conceded that Cavendish was a formidable sprinter. "The first obstacle for me to overcome was Cavendish," added Steegmans. "Then Barredo was a little bit too nervous when he was going to the finish with Burghardt."

Being thanked by Quick Step for his efforts prior to the final stage to Paris was welcome, but it didn't stop Steegmans from powering to victory ahead of Ciolek after being led out perfectly by Matteo Tosatto and Steven De Jongh. "I knew the last bend, and that I had to be in first, second or third place if I was to have any chance of winning," added Steegmans. "Tosatto was so fast that I knew before I jumped out from behind his wheel that I was going to win. "It's always great to win a stage. And it's a bit of a relief although at the team meeting last night we were all thanked for our efforts during the Tour."

The only one missing was Boonen, who was told by Tour organisers in June not to show up after his positive test for the recreational drug. "Unfortunately he wasn't here this year, that left a lot of pressure on me and Stijn (Devolder) to get a stage win," added Steegmans. "The pressure lasted a long time, too long. But the team were always there for me. Finally I've got a stage, and what a stage to win. To top it off we beat Columbia, which we are very happy about."

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