Dutchman Pieter Weening (Rabobank) gave a glimpse of his potential and ended a frustrating streak of runner-up places with a well-taken win on the eighth stage of the Tour de France Saturday in Gerardmer.
Weening had to wait an agonizing few minutes before finding out for sure if he had really won a two-man sprint with Germany’s Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile) – and when the result came he could still not quite believe it.
“In a two-man sprint nothing’s decided until it’s over so I just tried to hold on for as long as possible,” said Weening, who is the first Dutchman to win a stage on the Tour since Servais Knaven won for Quick Step in 2003. “I think if it was another two meters longer, I wouldn’t have been able to hold on!”
Weening, who came up through the Rabobank team’s under-23 program, began his professional career in 2002, but since then he had been searching for the first big victory that would confirm the potential that some in his native Netherlands feel will one day lead to him winning the yellow jersey.
The fourth oldest of 10 children, Weening is talked about by one Dutch columnist as the 2008 winner of the Tour, something he isn’t too keen on.
“It’s the kind of thing that just puts pressure on you,” he said.
On Saturday the 24-year-old from Harkema in the northern Friesland region of Holland – where speed skating on frozen canals is the winter pastime – decided it was time to show what he can do. He got involved in an early attack with seven riders who managed to build a solid lead on the peloton – and when Lance Armstrong’s Discovery Channel team decided not to give chase it gave Weening fresh impetus.
“The first hour was really very hard. My legs felt okay, although I knew it wasn’t gong to be an easy day,” explained Weening, who decided to attack his breakaway companions on the first slopes of the day’s last climb, the Col de la Schlucht, because he feared the chasing peloton might change its mind.
“It was a perfect stage for me. When the breakaway went I knew that Discovery weren’t going to chase it down. And once we’d built a few minutes’ lead I knew we would stay away from them. On the last climb I thought they might catch us so I decided to attack. Klöden caught me at the summit, but I hung on and did the descent with him. After that I tried to stay on his wheel for as long as possible and in the sprint I beat him at the finish.”
Even then, he refused to believe his team physio when he told him he’d won. “I had to ask my physio about 20 times if I’d really won. I still couldn’t believe it,” said Weening, who follows in the footsteps of his roommate Michael Boogerd (1996) by winning a stage on his first Tour de France.
Weening said he will now concentrate on winning more stages in the coming years before, he hopes, one day challenging for the race’s yellow jersey.
“Maybe in the future I will think about going for the yellow jersey, but for the time being I would just be happy trying to win a few stages. It’s my first Tour, so I have a few years ahead of me. Hopefully I will get even better in the future.”