SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain: Victor Lafay gave his Cofidis team their first Tour de France win in 15 years when he claimed the second stage, putting years of scandals and near misses behind the French outfit on Sunday (Jul 2).
The Frenchman, who showed great form in Saturday’s opening stage, powered away with one kilometre to go and did not look back with a reduced bunch breathing down his neck.
Cofidis had not won a stage on the Tour since Sylvain Chavanel in 2008, which was four years after the team was engulfed in a doping scandal and a year after they pulled out of the race when Italian Cristian Moreni failed a drugs test.
In 2004, Cedric Vasseur, now the team’s general manager, was one of several riders detained for questioning in the doping scandal before being cleared of any wrongdoing.
The 27-year-old Lafay, who finished ahead of Belgian Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates) in third, said he knew his win was a relief for the whole team.
“I’ve been with Cofidis for five years so I can appreciate that it’s liberating for the whole team,” Lafay told a news conference, recalling that his team mate Benjamin Thomas had come agonisingly close to winning in Carcassonne last year.
“We’ve been going for this Tour stage win on the Tour for so long and also we’ve never won a French national title (since the team was founded in 1996).
“We came into the Tour determined not to finish empty handed. This victory is going to do a lot of good to all of us.”
On Saturday, Lafay was the only rider to follow the pace of main contenders Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard, but eventually could not fight for the stage win.
Lafay’s victory on Sunday still came as a surprise, even for his own team mates.
“With one kilometre left, the guys asked me who won,” said Cofidis rider Anthony Perez, who was lagging far behind. “I said Victor but I was joking. And then I saw that he had actually won, I didn’t know it, it’s crazy.
Lafay added: “I kept on telling myself, ‘They’re going to eat me up, they’re going to eat me up, but suddenly I realised I had done it.”
Briton Adam Yates, Pogacar’s UAE team mate, retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey after finishing safely in the chasing bunch.
Twice Tour winner Pogacar gained a two-second bonus, added to the eight seconds he earned for being first to the top of the Jaizkibel climb, just ahead of defending champion Vingegaard.
The Danish rider, who came elbow-to-elbow with Pogacar in the lead-up to the sprint, picked up five seconds there but now trails his big rival by 11 seconds in the overall standings.
“I think it was successful today even if we didn’t get the stage win,” said Pogacar.
“It’s a perfect situation. We wanted to defend the yellow jersey and take seconds, and we did that,” added the Slovenian, who broke his wrist last April.
“It’s a bit sore now after all this sprinting, but it’s getting better every day,” he said.
Yates told a news conference: “Our goal today was to set up Tadej for that sprint (at the top of Jaizkibel). He’s a great leader to work with. He’s always motivated so it keeps everyone around motivated.
Yates leads Pogacar by six seconds, with Vingegaard in sixth place.
Monday’s third stage is a 193.5km ride from Amorebieta Etxano to Bayonne as the race enters France.