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Tour de France Cycling News, July 5, 2008

Edited by Ben Abrahams & Laura Weislo

Strong CSC team holds three cards for yellow in Paris

By Brecht Decaluwé in Brest

Andy and Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank/CSC)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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The CSC – Saxo Bank team is one of the strongest teams lining up for this year's Tour de France. At the pre-race press conference in Brest, manager Bjarne Riis expressed his confidence that the team has what it takes to go for the overall victory. "We'll be around the next three weeks. We'll be up there in the general classification and also in some stages. We prepared the way we wanted and I think internally we know how to handle every race situation.

"We have a very homogeneous and strong team, one of the strongest in the Tour de France, no doubt," Riis said. "Our leader is Carlos Sastre, but we also have Fränk and Andy Schleck who are also in very good condition," Riis named his three protected riders. "Sastre has never been a chrono-man, so don't expect him in the top three in the time trials. But he has worked hard during the last two months and he's ready," Riis said.

The Spanish team leader added that the course was to his advantage this year. "For me it is better this year with less TT-kilometres. I always lost time against the clock, although last year was much better after working hard on this discipline. There are a lot of mountains, and the best thing for us is that we can play many cards there," Sastre explained.

It's still unclear, even to Riis, whether Andy Schleck will be able to battle for the general classification. "It's Andy's first Tour and he must go for the general classification as long as he possibly can. Whatever happens, I'm sure that he will play his role in the mountains anyways."

Sastre will surely have the Schleck brothers around him when the peloton hits the mountains, but will probably not be on the wheel of Fränk if the roads go down again. In the most recent Tour de Suisse the Luxembourgian crashed dramatically into a ravine while battling for the stage win. While he climbed out of the ditch and finished the race, the eldest Schleck brother admitted he still thinks about the incident. "It gives me some sort of fear on the descents," Fränk Schleck said. "I guess you need to regain confidence. In the past I had some crashes and I was starting to gain confidence in Switzerland, until I hit that corner way too fast. You need to be concentrated all the time."

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Nevertheless it is clear that Riis has three riders to battle the competition in the mountains, and as a result also in the GC. "I am very confident that we can be competitive, especially in the mountains. We're not a sprinter's team – although we have Stuart O'Grady for the sprints – but you will not spot us pulling in front of the peloton at three kilometres from the finish.

"The Tour de France is the hardest - one of the most difficult races in the world - with the strongest competition around. That's why we lined up a very experienced team. They know exactly what to do here." Besides the three GC riders the team also has strong men like Fabian Cancellara and Jens Voigt in their ranks. The Swiss rider could stand out for stage wins along the French road, starting with the first stage which ends in an uphill finish in Plumelec. "I know that tomorrow is a possibility, but I don't know yet when, where and which card I'm going to play. This team is also aiming for the general classification, so I need to think about that as well," Cancellara explained.

Riis pointed out that he wasn't aiming for momentous glory in this year's Tour de France. "We're not going for the yellow jersey on stage four. If it would happen when Cancellara takes it for example, we'll be happy, but then we will focus back on the main job and that is to hold the yellow jersey in Paris."

Depleted Quick Step still has several irons in the fire

By Brecht Decaluwé in Brest

Quick Step
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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There was a different feel to Quick Step's pre-Tour press conference with team manager Patrick Lefevere flanked by general classification hopeful Stijn Devolder and sprinter Gert Steegmans. Were it not for the exclusion of Tom Boonen, who tested positive for cocaine at an out-of-competition control last month, Steegmans wouldn't even have been at the media centre in Brest, but now finds the weight of expectation placed upon his shoulders.

"It's impossible to replace Tom Boonen," the Quick Step manager explained. "With all respect to Gert Steegmans of course, but Tom always takes away the pressure from the rest of the team."

In Stijn Devolder the team has a rider with general classification aspirations, although the Ronde van Vlaanderen winner did his best to play down expectations. "I'm dreaming of the victory in Paris, but not this year," he said. "I want to build up experience for future Tours and hopefully I can crack the top-10."

The Belgian champion from last year, who is a time trial specialist, could potentially wear the yellow jersey during this Tour de France. Beating world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara on July 8 near Cholet will be a tall order, but Devolder should be able to clock one of the best times among the general classification contenders. Two days later he could then claim the jersey when the race finishes at Super-Besse.

"The time trial is for specialists like Cancellara, but maybe I can take time on the climbers," he predicted. "I don't think about yellow now. First I need to focus on the time trial."

Quick Step would like to see bunch sprints during the first week, although it is unclear whether Steegmans will be able to handle the pressure. "We will try a train, because he needs space," Lefevere explained. "On the other hand, it is the first time in years we are showing up with a general classification rider, so we'll have to divide the team's forces."

The rider himself stayed cool under the pressure and when asked whether he could imagine grabbing the yellow jersey in the first stage, he reacted laconically. "I have a lot of imagination," Steegmans smiled. "I will certainly try because I prefer an uphill finishing straight, but we'll have to see if the finish is a little too steep or just perfect.

"My goal is the first stage and the linked yellow jersey, then any other stage and eventually we'll see if the green jersey is within my reach, just like every other sprinter I guess."

Steegmans was then asked if he was confident enough about his sprinting capabilities after not being able to test his legs in the bunch sprints at the Tour de Suisse. "There was always bad luck over there, but I'm confident. Did you know we also train in between races?" he replied.

Stijn Devolder will also be writing a diary for Cyclingnews this year. The Belgian will offer an inside view on his first Tour de France, in which he hopes to claim a top-10 finish.

Pereiro content to work for Valverde, will exploit opportunities

By Shane Stokes in Brest

Oscar Pereiro will work for Alejandro Valverde
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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Oscar Pereiro may be starting the 2008 Tour as the only previous winner in the peloton, but he has no pretensions of taking his second overall victory. The 30-year-old Spaniard stated on Friday that he was prepared to ride for Caisse d'Epargne team-mate Alejandro Valverde in the race.

"It is clear that our chances of winning are with Alejandro," he told the assembled media at the team's pre-race press conference. "He is the leader. As for me, I will do the best Tour I can. I will do the race in a relaxed way.

"I have two goals; the first is to be beside Alejandro and to help him in the most difficult moments of the race. Also, if an opportunity presents itself, I will seize it. I will take it day by day and see how things go."

With the confirmation on Monday that Floyd Landis' appeal to CAS was dismissed, Pereiro's win in the 2006 Tour de France is now secure. He was asked for his response to the latest decision, and said that it was time for everyone to move on.

"We are starting the 2008 Tour, not in 2006," he replied. "So, out of respect for the riders who are here to do this race, I don't want to talk too much about 2006. For me, this story has finished, ever since last October when I got the yellow jersey.

"The best thing is that this case is archived, that my name is as the winner of 2006 and we focus instead on the fight for the Tour of 2008, 2009 and 2010."

PMU in for another four years

By Shane Stokes in Brest

Thor Hushovd will have mixed feelings - the PMU green jersey is a goal, but the hand is not his favourite
Photo ©: AFP
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On the eve of the 2008 Tour de France, PMU and ASO have confirmed that the betting company has renewed its partnership for an additional four years. It started its association in 1991 and will now be the official backer of the green jersey competition until at least 2012.

PMU's big green cardboard hands have been a mainstay in the crowds at bunch sprints and a popular souvenir (although a bit hard to pack in the luggage). The PMU hand was banned from the final two kilometres after Norwegian Thor Hushovd sustained a deep gash on his arm after brushing up against one in the 2006 Tour de France.

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme pronounced himself very satisfied with the renewal of PMU as a sponsor. "I am very happy with this continuation," he said. "It confirm the loyalty of partners of the Tour de France, and particularly of PMU for a ranking which has crowned the greatest champions of the last fifty years."

Madiot backs eight-man teams at the Tour

By Jean-François Quénet in Brest

Marc Madiot has introduced his Française des Jeux team as the "Bretonne des jeux" since he selected four Breton riders for the start in Brest: former French champion for time trial Benoît Vaugrenard, Lilian Jégou, Yoann Le Boulanger and Arnaud Gérard who is still in search of an international win since he became the Junior world champion in Zolder in 2002. "But they are not here because the Tour starts in their region," Madiot stressed. "Had they not hailed from the north, my selection would have been the same."

For the first two stages, FDJ will have eight Frenchmen at the service of their Belgian star Philippe Gilbert who is "dreaming strongly of yellow." This will be the last Tour for Gilbert in the white, red and blue kit of his French squad before he moves over to the Belgian Silence-Lotto outfit.

"I hope for an open Tour," Madiot said. "I like the way Christian Prudhomme has built the course with many possibilities for unexpected attacks to succeed. But I would have liked an even more audacious parcours with an incursion close to here on the 'ribin of the Tro Bro Leon' (the dirt sections of the Breton Paris-Roubaix). I know ASO has considered it, I hope they'll take the opportunity to create interest for the Tour de France with sections like that in the future."

Madiot has already something else in mind for next year. "I strongly support the idea of the Tour de France to be contested by eight man teams rather than nine for now," he said. "It's up in the air for more teams to be able to start the race, but that would make the Tour better if it's harder for one team to control the whole race." In the '70s the Tour de France lined up ten-man teams (ten teams of ten riders each in 1977!) but it looks like the future is set for eight-man teams like in the one-day races.

Horner picks his favourites for Tour glory

Chris Horner at the Tour de Georgia earlier this season.
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
(Click for larger image)

A three-time veteran of the Tour de France, Chris Horner finished 15th overall last year while riding in support of team-mate Cadel Evans. Evans' eventual second place finish was in large part due to Horner's selfless riding in the mountains, with many observers speculating that the American could have cracked the top-10 if riding for himself. While his Astana squad will not be there this year, Horner allowed Bruce Hildenbrand to look into his crystal ball and see who could be at the front of the peloton come July.

The post-Lance Armstrong era combined with Jan Ullrich's unceremonious demise and Ivan Basso's doping suspension left a gaping hole in what for years was something of a closed shop in cycling. Add all that to the non-selection of Horner's Astana team and its defending champion Alberto Contador, and you have a Tour which, at least on paper, looks like the most open in almost 10 years.

"When Lance was racing he was on one page, then down at the bottom of that page, with a big gap, you had Ullrich and Basso and occasionally some guy might land on that page but not by much, somebody like [Joseba] Beloki," recalls Horner of the Armstrong years. "Then you flip over to the next page and that is where you see all these other guys. On the second page was a huge list of riders that could possibly win the Tour, something like 10 to 15 guys. Now, everyone on that first page is retired and/or gone so the second page makes the Tour look pretty exciting."

Despite the long list of contenders, Horner still has a few favourites of his own. "Cadel has to be up there with a big target on him and then [Denis] Menchov I like a lot for the overall," he says. "A few of the CSC boys might come through, Sastre will be good, that's for certain and maybe one of the two Schleck brothers. I always like [Thomas] Dekker at Rabobank, too. He hasn't shown it at grand tours, but he has looked really good at some of the smaller stage races. He might be one of my more outside favourites."

To read the full interview with Chris Horner, click here.

Sánchez has respect for the Tour

By Monika Prell

Sammy Sanchez will take on his third, and hopefully best Tour.
Photo ©: AFP
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Samuel Sánchez, one of the leaders of the team Euskaltel Euskadi in this Tour de France, gave a press conference on Friday. The 30 year-old announced that he will try to win a stage, but downplayed his ambitions for the overall classification. The Asturian, who disputed two previous Tours de France, in 2002 and 2003, but never reached Paris, wants "to show that I am a new rider", according to the homepage of the team Euskaltel Euskadi.

Sánchez confessed that his memories of past Tours are not good. "I didn't participate for five years and now I am a different rider. I consider myself as a newcomer in the Tour. I hope that the third one will be a successful one and that I could do something important." Despite having made the podium in the Vuelta a España, he felt as if the Tour was not for him."I thought it was too big in every sense."

Sánchez will be one of the leaders of the team, along with Haimar Zubeldia and Mikel Astarloza. The Asturian described the objectives of the team: "We want to win a stage. Over the last years we did good Tours, but we lack a stage win since Roberto Laiseka and Iban Mayo were successful."

Along with deep respect for the race, Sánchez brings some good legs this year. "I am in a good form, I spent all the season preparing this event. For me it's a different race and a special challenge. I already notice the excitement of the beginning and I would like the Tour to start. The race will put you into your place and say what is your position." He confessed that during his first participations, he was afraid of this race, but now has respect for it. "Of course I am nervous, it's the best race of the world and you have to do it well."

He sees the first stage as adapted to his skills, even if he believes that the favourite to win is Alejandro Valverde. " He is in enviable form. It will be a dangerous day, very nervous and you will have to pay attention to avoid crashes and not to stay behind the other ones," explained Sánchez.

Gorka Gerrikagoitia, the sport director of Euskaltel Euskadi, announced that the Tour de France team "is one of the best ones we ever sent to the Tour, and we have chances to do a good race. We are dreaming of a stage win and to be amongst the best ones in the general classification." The rider with the best prospects is, according to the sport director, "Haimar Zubeldia, who is doing a very good season, finishing sixth in the Vuelta a Cataluña and fifth in the Dauphiné Libéré. He is in a great form", concluded Gerrikagoitia.

Even more great moments from previous Tours de France

In our third instalment of clips from the archives of the Tour de France, today we go from the mountains to the suffering of the thousands of cyclists who particpate each year in the Letape de Tour, as well as looking at how riders relieve the tension and drama by clowning around when they get the chance.

Cyclingnews will be presenting video highlights of every stage just after the stage finish. The video clips are being sourced from the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the owners of the Tour de France, using footage provided by the host broadcaster. But before the 2008 Tour rolls out tomorrow, here are another four clips from the vault.

The first clip of today's batch reviews the famous climbs of the Tour de France; those brutal, long and beautiful peaks that always create the final selection in every year of the Tour. This clip looks at the history of these climbs, such as the Col du Galibier and Mont Ventoux, the 'Giant of Provence' as it's known.

The next clip we offer today is a feature on the Letape de Tour, that special event that's been held since the mid '90s where thousands of 'regular' cyclists test themselves by riding a complete stage of the Tour, with the roads closed to traffic for the day.

The third new clip looks at the drama of the Tour. Called 'Le Soap Opera', this feature reviews the whole range of emotions on display as riders push themselves beyond their physical limits.

Finally, the fourth clip of the day shows the Tour's humourous and lighter side, this feature includes vision from many Tours in years past, with some light-hearted moments showing how the riders break the tension along the flatter stages - by swapping bikes, or dodging errant cattle and spectators. It shows that despite all the drama and exertion, there's always time to look around and enjoy the spectacle.

Stay tuned for the first of our race highlights clips to be uploaded as soon as today's stage finishes.

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