Alberto Contador of Astana admitted Friday’s cold and rain-hit 13th stage of the Tour de France had hindered his rivals’ plans to claim back lost time.
However Spain’s 2007 champion and current race favourite warned that attacks are sure to come in the Alps.
“It was a bad day for the weather today, but it was good from our point of view that no-one attacked us, because it made things more relaxed,” said Contador, second overall at six seconds behind race Italian leader Rinaldo Nocentini.
Despite the challenging Col de la Schlucht and the Col du Platzerwasel, neither key yellow jersey-rivals Andy Schleck or Cadel Evans attacked Astana’s top riders on Friday.
But with the Alps beckoning, starting with Sunday’s 207.5km Alpine route into Swiss ski resort Verbier, Contador fully expects that his team will be put to the test.
Astana teammates alberto contador (l) and lance armstrong fight through a wet stage 13 of the 2009 tour.: astana teammates alberto contador (l) and lance armstrong fight through a wet stage 13 of the 2009 tour.JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
“The problem is that we are a strong team and the stages up until now have not been so good to attack,” added the Spaniard. “There have been not a lot of climbs and difficult parts, but in the next few days we will face more attacks for sure.
“Now we have to wait for Sunday’s stage, the climb into Verbier is 8km long and it is a little bit more difficult than Andorra.”
Luxembourg’s Schleck is at 1:49 behind Nocentini, defending champion Carlos Sastre is at 2:52 while Australia’s two-time runner-up Evans is at 3:07.
With Contador second overall, and teammate Lance Armstrong third Astana appear to be in a strong position to control the race, and thus force their rivals on the offensive.
But Contador says there is no room for complacency.
“I am not looking at our rivals thinking they are weak, in fact, I think the opposite, we have some very strong opponents,” said Contador. “For me Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans are the real danger. Sastre also has to be watched, he rides at the back of the group of leaders, but I think he is a rider who is always strong in the last week and is a danger to us.”
Astana team boss Johan Bruyneel also said he expects the battle for the yellow jersey to warm up in the Alps as the Tour moves into its third and final week.
“I think it will be quiet again on Saturday, but Sunday will be another story with the tough climb into Verbier,” said the Belgian. “It was okay today, we thought it would be a complicated day, but nobody attacked.
“We were expecting something from Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans’ teammates, but nobody really came. It was cold and days like this are not ideal to attack.”
Evans, two-times Tour runner-up, concurred:
“The whole day raining, with high wind, and 15 degrees colder than over the last two weeks,” he said afterwards. “An awful day. Nobody was expecting such a sudden change of weather.
“I overheard Armstrong telling a teammate that he had never met such a rotten weather at the Tour; I can confirm that. Normally, I have no problem with cold and rain, but today, my legs did not appreciate it. This was so much different from what we expected.
“The weather is one of the reasons why Astana was not attacked, but also their overwhelming capacity to react. But the impossible can sometimes happen,” he added. “And I shall therefore attack in the Alps as much as my strengths will help me.”
As the weather conditions neutralised the yellow jersey battle, Australian-born German Heinrich Haussler, who rides for Cervelo, won his maiden stage on the race.
Hushovd regains green jersey
Norwegian Thor Hushovd insisted the battle for possession of the Tour de France green jersey was just beginning after he went back to the top of the race’s points competition on Friday.
Cervelo’s thor hushovd raises the green jersey wearer’s daily trophy.: cervelo’s thor hushovd raises the green jersey wearer’s daily trophy.PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images
Hushovd, the 2005 winner of the sprinters’ main prize, finished the hilly 200km-long 13th stage from Vittel to Colmar in impressive sixth place at 6:43 behind Australian-born teammate Heinrich Haussler.
Thanks to Haussler and Hushovd, who won stage six to Barcelona, Cervelo now have two stage wins on their first participation.
Hushovd’s sixth place finish gave him the 15 points which allowed him to take back the green jersey which has been going back and forth between him and Britain’s Mark Cavendish.
The Isle of Man-born rider, the winner of four stages so far, finished 23:44 down and is now second in the points competition on 200, five shy of Hushovd.
“The fight for the green jersey is set to go on, that’s for sure,” said Hushovd.
While Cavendish has gained more points than Hushovd at the finish line, the Norwegian’s superior climbing has helped boost his points tally in the mountain stages as well.
As Haussler drove unhindered towards victory on Friday, the racing behind him had come to an end as several groups of riders simply rallied to get to the finish.
“It was a difficult day with the cold and the rain but the weather suited me fine and helped me get up the climbs a bit easier.”
Saturday’s 14th stage is from Colmar to Besancon and could, if the expected breakaways do not succeed, end in a bunch sprint.
However, with four more climbing stages and an individual time trial up ahead, that will be the last chance for Cavendish, and Hushovd, to battle at the finish line until the final, 21st stage to Paris on July 26.
Farrar aiming for Cavendish again Saturday
American Tyler Farrar is targeting the Tour de France 14th stage as he bids to beat British sprint king Mark Cavendish in a ‘fair and square’ speed battle.
Cavendish has been the undisputed speed king with four wins so far, but Farrar is one of the few riders to have beaten him this year when he won the third stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico in March.
With the Tour de France moving into the Alps on Sunday, Saturday’s rolling route from Colmar to Besancon could, if the sprinters’ teams decide to chase down anticipated breakaways, end in a bunch finish.
And that could be the last chance for the likes of Cavendish, and Farrar to strut their stuff before the final stage into the Champs Elysees on July 26.
Mark cavendish beats tyler farrar (r) and thor hushovd during stage 11.: mark cavendish beats tyler farrar (r) and thor hushovd during stage 11.Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
“We have been right there for the last few stages,” said the 25-year-old from Washington State, who was just pipped to the post on Wednesday’s stage into Saint Fargeau. “It was pretty close in Saint Fargeau, hopefully next time we will go one better. I will just continue what I have been doing now. I’m right there, so if everything goes right, I think I can beat him and I know he’s not unbeatable, otherwise I wouldn’t bother racing him.
“It helps to know I have beaten him already.”
Before this year’s Tour Farrar had never met his New Zealander lead-out man Julian Dean. But with the pair improving their understanding on a daily basis, the American says a win over Columbia team rider Cavendish is around the corner.
“There have been days on the Giro (d’Italia) when we have been close, Julian and I are working better and I think another win is coming soon,” said Farrar. “I can beat him whether he has an off day or not, I don’t want to win by default, I want to beat him because I am the fastest guy.”
But the American admits only perfect riding will see him pip Cavendish.
“There was no special trick when I beat him before,” said Farrar. “Everything was just perfect, my positioning was good, I was where I needed to be. The last 5kms were really fast. I like it when the finish is slightly uphill, where everyone is hurting a little bit – that is perfect for me.
“But Columbia have the best lead out train in the world, they get it right everytime.”
And Farrar has been given some words of encouragement and advice from seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
“He’s awesome, he’s doing great, he’s trying hard, his team is organised and he’s a good kid,” said Armstrong. “He was closer in Saint Fargeau than in previous races, but he needs to somehow disrupt that Columbia train. They are riding completely uninterrupted with 500m to go, if you put together four or five guys to get in front of them and just complicate things a little, that might be where it would pay off.
“As long as he has got Julian (Dean) to do his final wheel, he’ll be okay,” he added. “He’s getting closer and he’s not going away.”
Air gunman hits Tour riders Dean and Freire
At least two riders suffered light injuries after being hit by shots fired from an airgun on the 13th stage of the Tour de France on Friday, according to team sources.
New Zealander Julian Dean of Garmin and Spaniard Oscar Freire of Rabobank were hit with pellets near the 165km mark of the 200km stage in the hilly Vosges region.
Freire, a triple world road race champion, had to have a pellet removed from his leg by his team doctor after finishing the stage.
“He’s got a bit of bruising but he will be able to start on Saturday,” said his team boss.
Dean, the main lead-out man for American sprinter Tyler Farrar, was hit on a finger of his left hand, according to his Garmin team.
Police working on the stage were immediately alerted by the teams.
Haussler wants his Aussie roots back
Heinrich Haussler admitted Friday he has a love-hate relationship with the hot temperatures akin to Australia, especially when it comes to bike racing.
But the Australian-born German chose the best possible time, winning his first stage on the Tour de France, to declare the time has come to regain his roots by representing his native country at next year’s world championships.
Stage 13 winner heinrich haussler with his breakaway companions.: stage 13 winner heinrich haussler with his breakaway companions.Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
“I like Germany; my dad’s German and I’ve got a German passport but next year I’d just like to ride for Australia,” said Haussler, who admitted this win would have to be shared out between both countries. “I’d say so. I’m not saying I’m pure Austrlian, but I just want to change back. The older I get, the more Australian I feel. When I quit cycling, I definitely want to go back there.”
Judging by his thick Aussie drawl, it sounds like Haussler has never left his native country.
Born and brought up in Australia of a German father and Australian mother, Haussler’s win on Friday’s 13th stage over 200km from Vittel near to his home in Colmar was well deserved.
A hard day in the saddle, over five climbs in the cold and rain did not prevent him giving a few sneaky smiles to the television cameras as he raced solo to the finish line with a four-minute lead on his closest pursuer.
But as dream became reality, Haussler had to cover his face with his hands as tears flooded down his face.
“It’s the Tour de France, the biggest race in world – it means a lot to me, you could see my emotions were going crazy,” said the 25-year-old, who rides for the Cervelo team of defending race champion Carlos Sastre. “I worked really hard today, and at the finish line I just couldn’t hold the tears back.”
After moving to Cottbus in the former eastern Germany, where he had gained a sporting scholarship in 1999, Haussler is now one of the hottest properties in cycling.
Although not considered a major Tour winner, Haussler can win stages and one-day races on most terrains. In what has been his breakthough season Haussler finished runner-up in both the Milan-San Remo and Tour of Flanders one-day classics.
Having raced away from breakaway companion Sylvain Chavanel on the descent of the Col du Platzerwasel, Haussler admitted that missing out on one of those big wins had given him a boost.
“Before today’s stage I wasn’t thinking about it, but definitely towards the end I was thinking, ‘jeez, I’m at the Tour de France, I don’t want to get second again’.
“I just didn’t want to get second again like in San Remo and Flanders. I saw Chavanel was a bit weaker, so that’s why I just went.”
Living nearby to Colmar, Haussler admitted his local knowledge, and his team’s failure to get in Thursday’s breakaway, had given him the impetus.
“I knew there’d a stage in Colmar, I live not far from here and this is my training area,” he said. “I’ve been climbing really good all season, and I knew I could win this stage, or at least have a go at it. But leading up to the Tour, the team had goals, so I didn’t know if I’d get the chance. Yesterday we missed a (breakaway) group, but today I made sure not to miss it.”
But ultimately, it was when he opened the curtains, and saw the weather, that he knew he would have a go at a first win on the Tour.
“I grew up in Australia, but strangely I hate racing in 30 degrees. My legs just don’t work,” he added. “If it was sunny today, to be honest I don’t think I would have won.”