Second place finisher Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) impressed everyone at Paris-Nice. He won the climbing stage in Mende and then scared the Hell out of Bradley Wiggins in the final time trial up the Col d’Eze.
But perhaps Westra’s most impressive accomplishment was that he made people forget once and for all about Riccardo Ricco and Ezequiel Mosquera, the two dopers who previously got the most ink for Vacansoleil.
When the team of the Sunny Vacationers pulled in Ricco and Mosquera for the 2011 season, it looked like a bad sign, a team willing to win at all costs, secure UCI points in any manner possible. It wasn’t the best reputation to have as Vacansoleil tried to buy their way up into the ProTour.
Lieuwe Westra wiped that slate clean with his podium in Paris-Nice. Nobody much gave him a chance of beating a superb time trialer like Wiggins but he gave it everything. He went out the gate at full gas and at the time check had clawed back two seconds on Wiggins. He fought all the way to the line in what would have been a major upset.
If he had pulled off that triumph it would have been as memorable as teammate Johnny Hoogerland and his famous barbwire trick. Hoogerland looked like a slasher victim but still got back on the bike and rode to the finish in the 2011 Tour de France. Other than Cadel Evan’s amazing victory, it was the biggest story of the race.
Now Vacansoleil finally has a fantastic story about a great ride. Westra himself summed things up well: “I was never as strong myself as this week, and for me and the team it was a great week.” Chapeau with a side of frites for Lieuwe Westra. Things finally look sunny for the Sunny Vacationers.