Spaniard Carlos Sastre's bid for the yellow jersey may not match some of his rivals' here at the Tour de France, however Australian Stuart O'Grady feels the CSC team could have a joker to play.
Sastre is the Danish outfit's' main contender, but because of his relative weakness in the time trials - of which there are two totalling nearly 110 km - he is being seen as an outsider.
The Spanish climber finished fourth last year, but could yet be moved up to third if American Floyd Landis is disqualified following his positive test for testosterone.
That result came in the absence of current race favourite Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan, whose former team Liberty was ousted because five of his teammates were implicated in the 'Operation Puerto' doping affair.
And with former runner-up Andreas Kloden and two-time Giro d'Italia champion Paolo Savoldelli at his side in a strong Astana team, Vinokourov starts as the overriding favourite.
Like all the yellow jersey contenders, Sastre will have to wait and see how the race develops during key stages before making any rash moves.
"I respect all of my rivals. Like me, they're all going to be in good shape. As soon as we start the race we'll start to see who's good and who's not," he said here Friday.
In 2006 CSC all-rounder Frank Schleck won his first Tour stage when he claimed victory atop the Alpe d'Huez.This year the boyish-faced Luxemburger is set to be Sastre's main aid in the crucial mountain stages. "I hope I'm good enough," said Schleck. "Right now Carlos is in great shape, but I don't know how I'm going to be but I'll be giving it all for him and sacrificing myself."
O'Grady admitted that this year's Tour could however smile on the likes of Spaniard Alejandro Valverde or fellow Australian Cadel Evans.
"Carlos was the only one last year who was really attacking in the mountains and able to ride away and stay away," said O'Grady.
"Carlos's problem is always going to be his time trial, and when you're up against (Alexandre) Vinokourov and (Andreas) Kloden, (Vladimir) Karpets, and Cadel (Evans), those guys are just so strong in the time trial it's going to be hard for Carlos to make up such a big difference in the mountains.
"I think guys like Valverde, Cadel, it's really going to be suited to those guys this year." And he suggested it wasn't too bad an idea to think of Schleck as a possible contender himself. "It's not ridiculous at all," he said when asked if Schleck, whose younger brother Andy recently finished runner-up to Danilo di Luca in the Giro d'Italia, could aim for the yellow jersey. "I can't give away all the team's strategies, but obviously Frank showed last year that he's capable of winning a mountain stage, and it's not something everybody can do.
"He's worked a lot on his time trialling and obviously he's going to be there in support of Carlos, but at the same time there's going to be opportunities for guys to attack and jump in groups."If Frank can get in the right group at the right time, and the team are okay with who he's up there with, then why shouldn't he be given a crack at it?"
CSC begin the race under a small cloud, their team manager Bjarne Riis having ruled himself out of attending after recently admitting that he doped to win his Tour crown in 1996 (see yesterday's story on BikeRadar). Experienced all-rounder Jens Voigt said Riis's decision will not affect team morale."Bjarne explained it to us a few days ago, and it's simply because he doesn't want to be a distraction for us."
© AFP 2007