Tour notes: Jostling for the podium

Saturday's time trial may shake things up a bit

Rabobank team manager Erik Breukink is not alone in hoping for Australia's Cadel Evans to have on off-day when the Tour de France's 20th stage decides who wins the yellow jersey on Saturday.

With a 2:39 deficit to overall leader Carlos Sastre, fifth-placed Russian Denis Menchov has an even harder task, leaving Breukink aiming for a podium place at best for his team captain and two-time Veulta a Espana winner.

"The only chances for us to make a big difference in the standings will be if it is a windy day. Then Denis can make a difference," said the Dutchman, himself a Tour podium finisher with Greg LeMond and Claudio Chiappucci in 1990. "A deficit of 2:39 to Sastre will be hard to close, especially as he appears to be in good form - as we saw in the Alps. But Denis was great in the first time trial, so who knows?

"Out of all the contenders Evans is the big specialist and has a lot of experience, but maybe he'll be starting to feel fatigued now."

Rabobank general manager Erik Breukink knows how to time trial (1996 file photo)

Sastre, of the CSC-Saxo Bank team, will go into the 53km race against the clock from Cerilly to St Amand Montrond with the race lead and the chance to become the third consecutive Spanish winner.

But with at least two specialists at his heels, the Spaniard faces an uphill task on a course which is a mixture of flat and rolling terrain. And on which there will be little wind, according to forecasts.

Although his CSC teammate Frank Schleck and Austrian Bernhard Kohl of Gerolsteiner sit in second and third at 1:24 and 1:33 respectively, Sastre has far bigger rivals to worry about.

Evans, fourth at 1:34, is a former Commonwealth Games time trial champion and is being tipped to overhaul his deficit and make history by becoming the first Australian to win the yellow jersey.

Stefan Schumacher blazed to the first time trial victory July 8

In the race's first time trial over 29.5km Evans finished 27 seconds behind Germany's Stefan Schumacher and over a minute ahead of Sastre. At almost double the distance, Sastre will be tested to the limit. The 33-year-old Spaniard, more known for his climbing skills, has yet to beat Evans over similar distances on the Tour in recent years.

Last year Evans won the race's first time trial in Albi, after the later disqualification of disgraced doper Alexander Vinokourov, relegating Sastre to 2:47.

Ahead of the last time trial of the 2007 Tour, held over 55.5km in Angouleme, Evans had a 1:50 deficit to Spaniard Alberto Contador and lost the yellow jersey by just 23 seconds. At Angouleme the Australian finished 51 seconds behind American stage winner Levi Leipheimer, with Sastre finishing 16th at 3:24.

Some, like British specialist David Millar, believe the Sastre vs. Evans debate is a non-starter.

"Sastre will do a better time trial than he would normally do, just because he's going so well," Millar told AFP. "But he's a climber, so he's going to lose time to Cadel and Denis and Christian (Vande Velde). In my opinion Cadel will win the Tour."

However Breukink is not alone in thinking that wearing the yellow jersey could give Sastre a boost.

"Last year we saw Contador do the time trial of his life, and he held on to the yellow jersey," added the Dutchman.

Sastre's co-team manager Scott Sunderland added: "The course is not perfect for Carlos, but he's in good shape, he has the yellow jersey and a lot of motivation and he just seems to be getting better and better."

Here's what Procycling's Daniel Friebe found to be the general consensus in the peloton and press room today.

© BikeRadar & AFP 2008 

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