Australian Stuart O'Grady believes his Saxo Bank team leader Andy Schleck is about to show the full range of his climbing potential on the Tour de France in the coming days.
Schleck began the 96th edition of the race among a handful of favourites for the race's coveted yellow jersey, but ahead of five remaining days of climbing the Luxemburger is 00:01:49 behind Italian race leader Rinaldo Nocentini.
As early as Friday's hilly 13th stage from Vittel to Colmar, Nocentini is expected to lose the yellow jersey with Astana's Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong breathing down his neck at only six and eight seconds behind, respectively.
Deemed under-rated in difficulty terms by some, the 13th stage features a total of five climbs, most notably the category one rated Col du Platzerwasel and the Col du Firstplan.
And despite Saxo Bank losing road captain Kurt-Asle Arvesen to injury on Tuesday O'Grady says Andy Schleck and his brother Frank can't wait to take the race by the scruff of the neck.
"Andy and Frank have been chomping at the bit, as I'm sure a lot of other guys will be. The Pyrenees just didn't give anyone a chance to show what they can do," O'Grady told AFP prior to the start of Wednesday's 11th stage.
"There's a few guys already out of contention but the race is really only starting, and some guys are going to do some pretty crazy things. The shit's going to hit the fan."
After the first climbing episode in the Pyrenees gave only a rare glimpse of who will battle to win this year's yellow jersey, the organisers' wish for suspense right to the end looks set to be respected.
One stage in the Vosges (13), three in the Alps (15, 16, 17) and the penultimate stage which includes the 21km climb to the summit of Mont Ventoux, will now separate the contenders from the pretenders.
And O'Grady believes that stage 13 could be unlucky for some.
"Some stages don't look too hard on paper, but on the road they're a totally different story," added the Australian, who knows that with Arvesen now gone he will have to look after both Schleck brothers for as long as possible. Kurt-Asle is pretty much irreplacable and, much like myself, had quite an important role in leading the boys as far as tactics. We're both pretty experienced riders."
Although Contador attacked late on stage seven to take time on his rivals, Andy Schleck was one of the few riders to show his climbing prowess with accelerations on Saturday's eighth stage on the clilmb to the Col du Tourmalet.
O'Grady added: "In the finals I've now got both Schlecks to take care of as much as possible. Andy really only flexed his legs the other day, but he's well looking forward to the challenge."
Wiggins, Leipheimer granted regained time
American Levi Leipheimer and Britain's Bradley Wiggins were among several riders Wednesday to be handed back 15 seconds in time lost at the end of the Tour de France 10th stage.
Near the end of Tuesday's stage a split in the peloton left some riders trailing in slightly behind the stage leaders, prompting officials to clock a second bunch at 15 seconds behind at the finish line.
But after detailed analysis of the stage race officials decided to overturn their decision and credit the riders with the same time as the stage finishers.
It means that after 10 of the race's 21 stages Garmin rider Wiggins moves back up to fifth place overall at 46 seconds behind Italian race leader Rinaldo Nocentini of AG2R.
Leipheimer, who rides for the Astana team of race favourites Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador, is back up to fourth overall at 39.
Cavendish looking for more stage glory
Britain's Mark Cavendish has already given his sprint rivals a hard time on the 2009 Tour de France but the Manxman shows no signs of relenting on Thursday.
At 211.5km, the 12th stage from Tonnerre to Vittel in the hilly Vosges region is the second longest of this year's race.
And although featuring a total of six relatively manageable climbs, ranging in category from three to four, it is the second last chance for the sprinters to grab stage glory before the race heads steadily up into the mountains.
With Wednesday's 11th stage from Vatan to Saint Fargeau Cavendish had taken his stage win tally to four, and eight overall in three participations.
With the green jersey for the points competition back on his shoulders, the 24-year-old from the Isle of Man has hinted that he has also bookmarked Saturday's 14th stage from Colmar to Besson as a possible victory opportunity.
"There are four more opportunities for bunch sprints, three more this week, and I'll keep on going for the wins," Cavendish said Tuesday after winning the race's 10th stage.
Because of its rolling profile, however, the 12th stage is likely to tempt more than one rider hoping to join a successful breakaway prior to or on the first category four rated climb at Baon whose summit is at 19km.
A further two category four climbs are at the 55 and 64.5 km marks, with the peloton allowed to pick up their feed bags shortly afterwards before tackling a series of three climbs starting at the 150km mark.
Decision on Tour race radios on Thursday - UCI
Cycling's world governing body, the International Cycling Union (UCI), appears set to make a U-turn on the controversial banning of race radios for stage 13 of the Tour de France on Friday.
However, UCI chief Pat McQuaid said no decision will be made by the UCI's management committee until Thursday.
"The Tour organisers have requested that radios be allowed for Friday's stage and we have put that request to our management committee who will make a decision on Thursday," McQuaid told AFP.
Race radios were banned for the 10th stage of the race, a move which prompted 14 of the Tour's 20 teams to submit a petition in protest.
The radios are all-important in that they allow team managers to talk to their riders throughout the race.
Friday's stage runs from Vittel to Colmar, the first stage since the Pyrenees which heads into the mountains, of the Vosges region.
The absence of radios could, in theory, benefit the teams hoping to distance the powerful Astana team of Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong.
© 2009 AFP & BikeRadar