Stage 16 preview: Schleck 'ready to die' for yellow jersey cause
Former Giro d'Italia runner-up Andy Schleck said Monday he will give every last ounce in the remaining six stages of the Tour de France to beat yellow jersey rival Alberto Contador.
Contador, the 2007 champion, took command of the race in style on Sunday when he won the first part of an alpine trilogy to leave Astana teammate Lance Armstrong in second place overall at 1min 37secs.
Schleck is fifth at 2:26 adrift, but he says there's plenty more racing to come.
The 18th stage is a 40km time trial and comes two days before the potential race decider, the 20th stage which begins in Montelimar and ends with a 21.1km climb to the summit of the legendary Mont Ventoux.
It is on either of those days in the mountains that Schleck will be keeping a close eye on Contador for signs of the dreaded "bonk".
Contador lost the Paris-Nice stage race in March after he made the fatal mistake of not loading enough fuel into his body.
"We well continue to attack even if we die in the process," Schleck said here Monday on the race's final rest day. "We have seen before that Alberto Contador can look strong and suddenly have a bad day, like in Paris-Nice this year. Back then he lost everything and went down. It may happen here as well."
Schleck won the race's white jersey for the best placed rider aged 25 and under when he came 12th overall at 11:32 behind Spaniard Carlos Sastre.
This year Sastre has flattered to deceive, and with the return of Astana - who were not invited to last year's edition - the landscape has changed dramatically.
"I have to admit that Astana have been controlling the race with great intelligence," added Schleck. "It is clear to see that they have made (Sergio) Paulinho, Gregory Rast and (Haimar) Zubeldia use their powers and that Armstrong, (Andreas) Klöden and Contador have been very protected."
With older brother Frank, who finished sixth overall last year, at his side Schleck suggested it may be time to capitalise on their well-known ability to link well to try and destabilise his rivals.
"Yesterday was a big test for me," added Schleck. "If we could turn back time maybe Frank and I should have gone (attacked) together. We are so strong riding together and could have minimised the loss. I think the stages to come will be in our favour.
"To be in fifth place is nice enough, but I am aiming higher than that. And I won't be standing in Paris thinking that I could have done more."
Frank Schleck added: "Of course we will try to exploit the possibilities with the course that lies ahead of us. Stage 17 to Le Grand Bornand is a real killer, and many things can happen."
Spanish press sees 'end of Armstrong' with Contador win
Spanish media predicted Monday that Alberto Contador's seizure of the yellow jersey in the Tour de France over the weekend hailed the end for Astana teammate Lance Armstrong, a seven-time winner of the cycling race.
"Contador marks the end of Armstrong," reported top-selling daily newspaper El Pais which published a photo of the smiling 26-year-old Spanish rider as he donned the yellow jersey which he had not won since his Tour win in 2007.
The newspaper stressed that he finished 43 seconds ahead of Luxembourg's Andy Schleck and one minute and 37 seconds ahead of Armstrong, who the paper said "could not match (Contador's) uphill rhythm".
"Contador strikes down Armstrong in the Alps," said rival daily El Mundo on its front page while conservative daily ABC headlined "Contador buries Armstrong.
"Once again without a team, he does everything on his own to retire the American myth and gain the lead of the race," the newspaper added.
Contador took the yellow jersey after a solo attack on Sunday during the first Alpine stage of the race from Pontarlier, France, to the Swiss ski resort of Verbier.
"His faraway attack sinks Armstrong, gives him the yellow jersey and puts an end to the 'Apartheid' within Astana," wrote daily newspaper Publico, in a reference to Armstrong and Astana manager Johan Bruyneel.
"The road has put each rider in his place," said sports daily Marca.
Armstrong indicated after Sunday's stage that it would now be difficult for him to aim for an eighth Tour crown.
"I think after today he demonstrated he is the strongest in the race. I thought I'd feel a little bit better, I didn't. There is no point messing around. I gave everything I had and I wasn't the best," he said.
Wiggins could win Tour: Evans
Britain's Bradley Wiggins has just as good a chance of winning the Tour de France as Alberto Contador, said Australia's two-time runner-up Cadel Evans.
Evans said Monday here on the race's final rest day he expects the battle for the yellow jersey to go right to the wire. And with the ever-impressive Wiggins in third overall at just 1:46 behind 2007 champion Contador, Evans believes the track pursuit specialist could go all the way.
"The way Wiggins is going I wouldn't be surprised if he won the Tour de France," Evans said Monday. "He's climbing really well and he certainly knows how to ride on the flat."
Wiggins has been among the top ten from the start of the race and on the four mountain stages held so far the Olympic pursuit champion has confirmed the emerging climbing form he first showed at last month's Giro d'Italia.
And yellow-jersey holder Contador has also praised the "incredible shape" Wiggins has shown on the Tour so far.
"He is a surprise, he was already in incredible shape, but now he has proved to be a real stage race rider," said the 2007 Tour winner who claimed the yellow jersey after Sunday's climb into Verbier. "And he is one of my biggest contenders and I am sure he will be dangerous in Annecy in the time-trial (on stage 18)."
Wiggins said after Sunday's stage, during which he attacked a group containing Lance Armstrong to finish fifth and 29secs ahead of the American, it had been a fantastic result.
"Fantastic, it's really fantastic, I don't know what to say," said Wiggins. "I'm in great shape, I just keep thinking that. I kept that in my mind."
If he can maintain his performance over the 16th and 17th stages in the Alps, Evans believes Wiggins can aim higher than his current third place.
"As an athlete he's shown he's very talented," said Evans, a former mountain bike champion. "I don't want to say that transforming to road from track is any easier than switching from mountain bike to road. But it's quite a turnaround. He's changed his physique and now he's climbing very well."
Asked whether he implied there might be suspicion surrounding Wiggins' performances, Evans told AFP: "Not at all. It's more of a compliment. You have to give the compliment when it's due."
Wiggins has already stated that his emerging status as a major stage race rider has nothing to do with drugs. But Evans says the biggest test could be lasting the full three weeks.
"It will be interested to see how Wiggins does in the (stage 18) time trial. The third week will be the toughest test for him."
Sastre lashes out over lack of respect
Reigning Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre lashed out Monday for being shown a "lack of respect" coming into this year's race.
And the Spaniard, now almost out of contention for a second consecutive victory on the race, said he believes that "certain riders" are conspiring to make sure he does not win the Tour de France.
After the first of three days in the Alps Sastre's yellow jersey hopes have faded after he slipped further down the general classification on Sunday's summit finish to Verbier.
At the Swiss ski resort compatriot Alberto Contador, the 2007 champion, won the stage in style to take possession of the yellow jersey.
He now holds a 1min 37sec lead on Astana teammate Lance Armstrong, who indicated he would abandon his personal ambitions and ride to help Contador win the race.
Sastre finished just over a minute down on Contador, however the 34-year-old is now 11th overall at 3:52 adrift.
Although he hopes to regain some pride by winning the penultimate stage to Mont Ventoux on Saturday, the Spaniard was in an unforgiving mood on Monday's rest day.
Having been vexed by the organisers' decision not to allow him to wear his yellow jersey, as defending champion, on the first stage time trial Sastre has also been annoyed with his national media.
He claims they ignored him leading up to the race and built up the Armstrong v Contador rivalry to such an extent that it has made the race "boring".
"I think it's disrespectful, as defending champion, to always be faced with questions about Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador," said Sastre.
"For months you've been creating a rivalry between Armstrong and Contador, and now that the race has become boring and there's nothing more to write about you turn to me and expect me to do something.
"I'm not a box of magic tricks."
Sastre has persistently played down his chances of beating the likes of Contador, Armstrong and Luxembourger Andy Schleck, the race's other main contender.
But the Spaniard, without naming names or being more specific, claimed his job is not being made easier.
"There are some riders who don't want me to win this Tour," added Sastre, who hinted he had been the victim of some dirty tricks.
"As far as bonding with my team goes this has been my best Tour de France. But I haven't enjoyed the way the race has been raced in the peloton."
Ahead of two more days in the Alps, a 40km time trial around Annecy and the final difficulty, the 20th stage ride to Mont Ventoux, the yellow jersey battle, on paper, is far from over.
Contador leads Armstrong by 1:37 in the overall standings, with Briton Bradley Wiggins of Garmin in third at 1:46. German Andreas Klöden, also of Astana, is fourth at 2:17 while Schleck is fifth at 2:26.
But even Sastre, ironically, believes there will be little chance of anyone beating Contador and Armstrong.
"There are only two riders to beat in this race, all the rest are already out," he said.
For the Spaniard, it appears next Sunday's finish in Paris could not come quick enough.
"I'm not here to fight against anyone (for the victory). I'm here just to do my race. For me personally, winning the stage to Ventoux is my main aim right now."
Evans pessimistic over podium place chance
Cadel Evans said Monday he expects the race to finish first in this year's Tour de France to go right to the wire. Unfortunately for Australia's two-time runner-up, he does not believe he will even be in the running for a podium place.
Evans suffered his "worst ever day" on the world's biggest bike race on Sunday when an unexplainable loss of power left him battling to keep pace with the favourites on the summit finish to Verbier on the 15th stage.
After finishing seventh at 1:26 behind stage winner and new race leader Alberto Contador, Evans is now 14th place overall at 4:27 behind the Spaniard.
For Evans, who has finished no lower than eighth place in all four previous participations, the chance of even a podium place looks out of the question.
"I'm so far behind in the GC (general classification) that I didn't think anyone would show up today," Evans told reporters here on the race's final rest day.
With three climbing stages and a time trial have yet to come, Evans' is trying to remain positive.
But the 32-year-old is under no illusions. He even believes Britain's Bradley Wiggins, third overall at 1:46 behind Contador, has a chance of winning the Tour.
"At the moment I will just try to salvage what I can. Normally the third week is when I'm strongest," said Evans. "But I have to be realistic, I'm four minutes down and each day I lose a little more time I'm getting further away.
"All I can do is claw back some places on GC (general classification). But from third to first is not easy, so from 14th ..."
The Tour resumes Tuesday with the 16th stage from Martigny to Bourg Saint Maurice, but it is Wednesday's 17th stage that is likely to stage the biggest battle for command of the race prior to the potential decider at Mont Ventoux on the penultimate stage on Saturday.
The 169.5km ride from Bourg Saint Maurice to Le Grand Bornand on the 17th stage includes five climbs and comes before Thursday's individual time trial in Annecy.
Evans said it was "possible" he will be tempted to try and claw back some of his lost time on Wednesday, although he hinted that may not be an option if he is then to produce the time trial of his life 24 hours later.
"Whoever wants to be on the podium in Paris will have to do a great time trial. That means I will have to be phenomenal," added Evans.
With Lance Armstrong still expected to finish on the podium and Andy Schleck two minutes ahead of him, Evans said he might expect to be pipped by Wiggins.
"I will be interested to see what he does in the final time trial," said Evans.
Having lost two and a half minutes of his current deficit during stage four's team time trial, when a disastrous performance by his Silence team left them in 13th place behind Astana, the mountains and the time trial are now Evans' only chance to move back up the overall standings.
But after Sunday's nightmare ride through Switzerland, where Evans lives, the Australian is not exactly bubbling with optimism.
"They say on the Tour that you always have one bad day, and I wasn't feeling good at all," said Evans. "You know when you start breaking down the (kilometres) down into 100-metre segments that you're having a bad day. But given the way I was feeling (Sunday) it wasn't a great deal of time differences (between the favourites).
"I've since heard the data from Alberto Contador's climb and it's really quite spectacular. The fact I finished just over a minute behind him is not so bad."
© AFP 2009
You can follow BikeRadar on Twitter at twitter.com/bikeradar.