Sergio Paulinho gave Lance Armstrong’s team RadioShack their first victory in the Tour de France when he won the 179km 10th stage in Gap on Wednesday.
The 2004 Olympic silver medallist was also the first Portuguese to win an individual Tour stage in 21 years and only the fourth rider from his country to do so.
Paulinho, who also won a Vuelta d’Espana stage in 2006, outsprinted Belarus’s Vasil Kiryienka on the line while Belgium Dries Devenyns was third, one minute 29 seconds behind.
The three belonged to a group of six escapees who spent most of a scorching day in the front and crossed the line 14 minutes and 19 seconds ahead of the main bunch, which included overall leader Andy Schleck of Luxembourg.
“This is the most important win in my career. The Tour is the greatest cycling race in the world, the one you dream about as a kid. So this is better than my Olympic medal,” the 30-year-old Paulinho told reporters.
“We had been looking for a win for some time. It’s a great relief after all the hard luck we’ve had since the beginning of the Tour.
“I hope this will boost the team’s morale and help us win more stages,” he said.
RadioShack, assembled by seven-time champion Armstrong at the end of last season, has struggled since the start of the Tour.
They lost time on the cobbles in stage three before being forced to help their leader when he crashed and cracked in Sunday’s stage to Morzine, finishing 11:45 behind winner Schleck.
“We still have Levi Leipheimer as our leader and we’re also going for the team classification,” said Paulinho, one of Armstrong’s closest aides as well as one of defending champion Alberto Contador’s best friends.
“As for Lance, he has a good morale, and I’m convinced that without the hard luck in the first week, he would still be in contention to win the Tour.”
Team RadioShack sports director Alain Gallopin told reporters: “He is so selfless, he fully deserves this victory.
“I have been working with him for two years now and I have been telling him that he should take his chance.”
Overall, Schleck retained his 41 seconds lead over Spaniard Contador.
“Once the break started, we took it relatively easy but we still spent six hours in the heat and it was hard,” Schleck said.
Thursday’s 184,5km 11th stage to Bourg les Valence should see sprinters take centre stage again.
Briton Mark Cavendish signalled he might well be the man to beat again as he overpowered Italy’s Alessandro Petacchi and Norway’s Thor Hushovd to win the peloton’s sprint for ninth place. — Reuters