Tour de France Cycling News, July 24, 2008
Edited by Sue George and Laura Weislo
Sastre living in the moment
By Gregor Brown in Alpe d'Huez
Carlos Sastre dons his first ever
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
It's been a long time coming, but Spaniard Carlos Sastre has finally
lived up to his promise as a Grand Tour contender and taken the yellow
jersey in the Tour de France. His attack at the base of the Alpe d'Huez
recalled his only other Tour stage win, which came in 2003 on the Plateau
de Bonascre. This year's victory salute was more befitting of a team
leader, and rather than put his baby's pacifier in his mouth, Sastre instead
pumped his fist in the air in an uncharacteristically aggressive gesture.
The Spaniard's aggression was entirely necessary, as he will need every
second he gained on Wednesday's stage if he wants to keep his lead through
the time trial on Saturday. It has been Sastre's relatively weak time
trial performances which have kept him off of the top of the Grand Tour
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In 2006, he was only 12 seconds from yellow before
the final time trial, but said goodbye to any hope winning the Tour in
the 57 kilometre final
time trial, by losing more than two minutes to eventual winner Oscar
Pereiro. He would go on to take the final podium spot, but only after
Floyd Landis was disqualified for doping.
Sastre put an important 2'15" into Australian Cadel Evans with his
ride up Alpe d'Huez, but it was his CSC-Saxo Bank squad which set the
stage for his performance with admittedly predictable but effective tactics.
"I guess it's no secret, but we will be implementing a similar plan
to what we have done on each mountain stage so far. It is not really rocket
science. We have the strongest team and we have to use our strengths,"
said directeur sportif Scott Sunderland before the Alps.
Just as they have done since the Pyrénées, the Danish team
led the peloton over the Col du Galibier and the Col de la Croix de Fer
in the 210.5-kilometre day, and then surged into the base of the 13.8-kilometre
Alpe d'Huez with six men and Fränk Schleck's seven-second lead in
the overall well protected. Following the last surge by CSC's Fabian Cancellara,
Sastre played the perfect tactical card and launched at the base of the
climb – the favourites did not see him again.
"I decided to attack from the start because everyone was tired from
the CSC efforts on the Col de la Croix de Fer. I took off from the start
to get as much time as possible," said Sastre. "I knew I could
do better at my own pace instead of constant attacks. It was better early
– I could also surprise them by going as early as possible."
Heading into the day 41 seconds down on rival Cadel Evans, Sastre knew
he could not go into the final time trial on Saturday at a deficit, and
indeed would need several minutes on Evans to keep his dreams of winning
the Tour alive.
Despite being weaker against the clock than the likes of Evans and Rabobank's
Denis Menchov, Sastre placed the best in the stage four time trial in
Cholet of the CSC-Saxo Bank leaders, clearly demonstrating that he's been
working on his skills against the clock.
Yet pundits criticized CSC for not creating more pressure earlier on
in the day, with most believing the team would need to attack early to
gain time on Evans. However, the race was status quo over the first two
hors catégorie climbs and left CSC little space for time gains
up the Alpe d'Huez.
Read the complete
Evans down, but not out of Tour
By Daniel Benson and Gregor Brown in Alpe d'Huez
Evans had to dig deep
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) may not have stamped his authority on Wednesday's
stage 17 and in fact,
he may have moved further away from an overall victory. However his Team
Manager Marc Sergeant still believes that Evans is the number one favourite
for the final yellow jersey in Paris despite the onslaught from Team CSC-Saxo
Bank and the time lost to stage winner and new maillot jaune Carlos
Evans and his Belgian team leader were willing to admit that Team CSC
was not only the strongest team, but that it had played a strong tactical
hand in the final mountain test.
"I think tactically it was the best thing they could have done
to put Sastre away," Evans said. "The most dangerous thing was
for Sastre to be clear, it would have been worse if he was away with Andy
Schleck. All things considered, it was only Sastre who could get away
from us and when they have such strength in numbers it is always three
against one for me."
Despite some early work from Mario Aerts, Evans was isolated against
the three CSC riders, who also put the fear into the rest of the favourites.
"They all sat on," Evans said of the final climb. "It was
a headwind, and the headwind probably worked in my advantage yesterday,
but today they could obviously sit on the wheel and recover.
"You know, I can ride but I also have to be able to cover attacks
in the last kilometres. It is not easy to do to close the gap of
two minutes with ten of the best bike riders on your wheel and ready to
attack. It is a difficult situation."
"Most of Cadel's rivals did nothing today," said Sergeant,
"but the big winner is Carlos Sastre as he has 1'34" on Cadel
now," he said. With four stages still to go, though, he was adamant
that the race was far from over; even pointing to the next two stages
as possible places to gain or lose time.
"There are two more difficult stages to come. I think we'll see
more attacking before the time trial, for sure. A lot of riders will still
want to win stages but the overall contenders will still be very nervous."
It is likely that the general classification will be the same heading
into Saturday's 53-kilometre time trial, setting up a bit of a déjà
vu for Evans. Last year, he began the final time trial 1'50" down
on Alberto Contador, and put in a brilliant effort but still fell 23 seconds
short of taking the overall victory. That same day, one Carlos Sastre
was 2'33" slower than Evans on a 55.5 kilometre course.
Seargeant still backed his man as the favourite to win. "I still
think that Cadel will win, but I don't think you can underestimate Carlos
Sastre. He can be very strong, but we have a good chance if it stays at
Evans was a bit more reserved in his reply. "1'34" behind for
time trial? Yeah, it is not so bad, but I would rather be five minutes
in front," he said with a worried look on his face.
One thing is for certain and that is that nothing is yet certain in the
quest for the yellow jersey.
Menchov still hopeful
By Hedwig Kröner in L'Alpe d'Huez
Denis Menchov (Rabobank)
Photo ©: AFP
During the rest
day in Cuneo, Italy, Rabobank leader Denis Menchov (Rabobank) felt
very confident about his general classification aim to win the Tour de
France. At the time, he was only 30 seconds back on Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto),
and Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank) was 11 seconds behind him.
But one day later,
the Russian got dropped on the final descent to Jausiers, lost another
35 seconds on Evans and got passed by Sastre on GC. After the last,
epic mountain stage to L'Alpe d'Huez on Wednesday won impressively
by Sastre, Menchov's overall deficit to the Spanish Sastre was 2'39, with
the Australian Evans 1'05 ahead of him.
With Sastre rated a less gifted time trialist than both Menchov and
Evans, speculation is now open as to his chances of still reaching the
highest podium spot on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, four days from
now. The Russian, back to his mysterious ways, did not reveal any of his
thoughts on this on the finish line in L'Alpe d'Huez. "Anything is
possible because Evans is a time trial specialist," he said. "However,
Carlos is also good. We will see, patience."
Menchov felt good throughout the day, with the race made fast and hard
by team CSC-Saxo Bank, preparing the road for their biggest coup yet in
this Tour de France. Everything was to be decided in the last 21 slopes
up to the famous ski station.
"I wanted to attack early in the climb, just like Sastre, actually,"
said Menchov, who spent a few kilometres chasing back up to the rest of
the favourites after Sastre's attack made him blow up. "He left before
me, and I had to follow. But then, maybe also because of the pace driven
by CSC all day, I exploded. But I held my rhythm and I recovered, fortunately,
and came back."
Those at Rabobank see Menchov's remaining form in this third week of
racing as a positive sign. Harold Knebel, the team's manager, insisted,
"For him to come back like he did gives us hope. We still believe
in a possible Tour victory."
Vande Velde rides strong after tough day
By Daniel Benson in Alpe d'Huez
Vande Velde tried to attack
After his bête noir yesterday, Christian Vande Velde was back in
contention on the final day of racing in the Alpine mountains. The 32 year-old
American was among a select group of favourites containing Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto),
Carlos Sastre (Team CSC - Saxo Bank), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne),
Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner) and the Schleck brothers Andy and Frank (Team
CSC - Saxo Bank), as the race reached the final climb of L'Alpe d'Huez.
Photo ©: AFP
Each rider took turns attacking the others in the yellow jersey group
before Evans assumed control of the pursuit of Sastre on the final slopes
of the mythical climb.
"I handled things quite well, and I tried with a dig at the end.
It didn't quite work out though, but I'm happy with how things went today.
Especially after yesterday," said Vande Velde. With the all the main
contenders willing to play a game of cat-and-mouse as they took turns
attacking, he felt that he missed a chance to put time into a contender.
"(Denis) Menchov (Rabobank) was out the back, and it was a lost
opportunity for the rest of us. He got back on, but we could have dropped
him and put him out of the picture before the time trial." However
despite this lapse, after what was arguably his finest day in the mountains
in this year's race, Vande Velde said he will be content with a scenario
in which the final Tour de France podium will be decided on Saturday's
stage 20 by the 53km
ride against the clock.
Vande Velde wouldn't commit to a pick for the overall. "Carlos isn't
a horrible time trialist. He's a very good time trialist. Everyone has
this perception that if you're not in the top three then you can't time
trial but he's good. It's Cadel's race to lose."
As he moved away from the surrounding press toward the seclusion of his
team bus, he summed up his own state of mind and chances perfectly. "I
was so down yesterday, I really was, but I wasn't going to throw everything
away, not having trained so hard to be in this position."
Schumacher puts in another day at the front
By Daniel Benson in Alpe d'Huez
Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
A day in the Alps at the 2008 Tour de France wouldn't be the same without
a long-distance break by Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner). For the second
day in a row the former yellow jersey-wearing stage winner chased down
a select group of Rubén Pérez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Rémy Di Gregorio (Française
des Jeux) and Peter Velits (Team Milram) at 15km to make the day's early
break. The four worked tirelessly and by the foot of the Galibier, the
peloton's deficit was 5'45, with Schumacher claiming the coveted "Souvenir
Henri Desgrande" at the top of the col.
However, on the next ascent, the Col de la Croix, the German's strength
began to sap and he was quickly dropped and caught. "I'd taken too
much liquid on board during the climb and I kept on throwing up,"
he said after the stage.
As CSC-Saxo Bank-led peloton started to reel him in and his companions
surged on ahead, Schumacher was quickly swallowed up and spat out the
back, forcing him to chase on the descent before Alpe d'Huez. Unfortunately,
this effort was beyond him, and he finished 43rd, 18'52 down on stage
winner Carlos Sastre (CSC - Saxo Bank).
"It was important that we defended the mountains jersey in case
guys like Voekler and Chavanel tried to get away. It's always good to
have someone in the front group too as it's always easier to drop back
instead of chase," he said. "However one moment I was feeling
really good, and the next, my batteries were almost empty. I would have
liked to get back on and help Berni [Bernhard Kohl], but I had nothing
After his exploits in the last two stages, Schumacher will now try to
recover before his last objective: the time trial. Having won the race's
first and only test against
the clock he'll be marked out as a contender for another win. "I'll
try and recover for a few days before the time trial. Then I'll be off
to Beijing for the Olympic time trial there."
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