Tour de France news: Armstrong, Schleck, Sastre, Milram

Favourites play down chances; team updates

Armstrong plays down yellow jersey chances

Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong has played down his chances of winning an eighth Tour de France title despite lining up at the July 3-25 race with a quality-packed RadioShack team.

Armstrong successfully beat cancer in 1998 to go on and win seven consecutive yellow jerseys from the world's toughest bike race in 1999-2005.

Having returned to the sport last year after a three-year 'retirement', Armstrong could only finish third in Paris behind Luxembourger Andy Schleck and Spanish champion Alberto Contador of Astana.

Armstrong will line up at this year's race in a team which includes former Tour runner-up Andreas Klöden of Germany, and American Levi Leipheimer among other experienced stage race campaigners. And the American, dominated by Contador in both the mountains and time trials of last year's race, said their support could play a deciding role as he bids to oust race favourite Contador from the top step of the podium.

Asked about his, Leipheimer or Klöden's chances, Armstrong said: "I don't think either of us is going in as favourite for the Tour but between the three of us you never know what can happen.

"We have a strong team," he added. "It will be very hard with my age, the explosiveness of the other guys and my own struggle with the time trials the last few years. "We'll have to be smart, lucky and play the team card but there's a handful of guys who can win."

Armstrong, who was speaking at the Tour of Switzerland where he is fine tuning his preparations for the Tour, got a chance to test his time trial skills in Sunday's final stage. He finished 11th in the 26.8km race against the clock, 1'09 behind the winner Tony Martin.

The 38-year-old was coy, confirming that his skills in the race against the clock are not what they used to be.

"It's tough to say. I'd like to say yes but the last few years my time trials have been disappointing," added the American, whose early season was hampered by illness and injuries suffered in a crash at the Tour of California.

"We'll see on Sunday, I'll do my best. That's one fortunate thing (in the 2010 Tour), there's only one time trial."

Swiss win gives Frank Schleck a timely Tour boost

Frank Schleck said his Tour of Switzerland victory Sunday has given him an extra boost as he prepares to go one better than his two consecutive top-five finishes in the Tour de France.

Schleck's younger brother Andy, the Tour de France runner-up to Alberto Contador in 2009, will shoulder Saxo Bank's main yellow jersey hopes at the July 3-25 epic.

However Schleck is brimming with confidence himself after his 13th place finish in Sunday's 26.9km time-trial gave him a 12-sec overall lead on Lance Armstrong, and the Tour of Switzerland crown.

"It certainly gives me confidence going into the Tour de France," said Schleck, who has won two mountain stages on the Tour de France in recent years.

"(My brother) Andy also went very hard and attacked very, very hard in the sixth stage. We are going to be there for the Tour de France to challenge the best in the world."

The 30-year-old, who won stage three of the race earlier in the week, admitted he was surprised to win the Tour of Switzerland on the basis of a time-trial but said it was all part of his plan to tackle the world's most famous bike race.

"I am not a time-trial specialist but Andy and I have been training for them this year. Today there was no pressure, I just wanted to do a good time-trial as preparation for the Tour de France and it worked well."

Schleck overturned the overall lead of Dutchman Robert Gesink who, after losing over two minutes in the race against the clock, could only finish fifth overall. But he insisted that the 24-year-old Rabobank rider will be one to watch when the Tour gets underway.

"Robert has made a lot of progress in time-trials. This morning I thought he was going to win the Tour of Switzerland," said Schleck. "He is one of the riders I most admire because he really works hard. He is a serious candidate for the Tour de France."

Another serious contender is RadioShack's Lance Armstrong, who put in a strong time-trial to finish 12 seconds behind Schleck in second place.

But Schleck did not dwell on the seven-time Tour de France winner's timely return to form.

"There isn't a great deal to say about Lance. He has talent in every department," he said.

The Tour de France begins in Rotterdam on July 3 and ends in Paris on July 25.

Sastre gets green light for Tour de France

Carlos Sastre

Spanish cyclist Carlos Sastre, the winner of the 2008 Tour de France, confirmed Monday that he has been given the green light to compete in this year's race.

The 35-year-old Cervelo rider had been in doubt after picking up a herniated disc after falling twice on the Giro d'Italia.

Sastre, who finished the Giro in eighth place overall, had said he would not compete in the July 3-25 Tour de France if not fully fit.

"I want to race the Tour with the desire of being able to compete at the highest level," said Sastre, who will be participating for the tenth time.

"I had problems with my back which resurfaced after falling on the Giro.

"But thanks to physiotherapists and doctors I consulted these problems disappeared and I was able to train without pain. I still have 12 days left to prepare and I'll be ready for the Tour."

Sastre and Norway's Thor Hushovd will spearhead Cervelo's bid on the Tour de France, the Swiss outfit confirmed.

Hushovd, the green jersey points champion from the 2009 Tour, suffered a broken collarbone during training early this year, but competed in last week's Tour of Switzerland.

The team include three newcomers to the Tour - Spaniard Xavier Florencio, Briton Jeremy Hunt and Ignatas Konovalovas of Lithuania.

Cervelo team for Tour de France:

Xavier Florencio (ESP), Volodimir Gustov (UKR), Heinrich Haussler (GER), Jeremy Hunt (GBR), Thor Hushovd (NOR), Andreas Klier (GER), Ignatas Konovalovas (LTU), Brett Lancaster (AUS), Carlos Sastre (ESP)

Replacements: Daniel Lloyd (GBR)

Milram hand Aussie Roberts final Tour berth

Australia's Luke Roberts has been handed the final berth on the Milram team to compete in the Tour de France from July 3-25, the German cycling outfit announced on Monday.

Milram team at Tour de France:

Gerald Ciolek (GER), Johannes Frohlinger (GER), Linus Gerdemann (GER), Roger Kluge (GER), Christian Knees (GER), Luke Roberts (AUS), Thomas Rohregger (AUT), Niki Terpstra (NED), Fabian Wegmann (GER)

Replacements: Roy Sentjens (BEL), Markus Fothen (GER) 

© AFP 2010

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