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By Andrew Hood
Riis won’t play games
Team CSC-Saxo Bank boss Bjarne Riis is widely viewed as one of the best tacticians in the game. So far through this year’s Tour de France, he’s confirmed that reputation.
With two well-oiled attacks, first in the stage to Hautacam and a second up Prato Nevoso, Riis has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that CSC-Saxo Bank is the strongest team in the pack.
But now he’s faced with an interesting quandary. Frank Schleck is wearing the yellow jersey but it looks like Carlos Sastre could be the strongest climber on the team.
With two looming mountain stages, Riis makes no doubt about for whom the team will ride in two upcoming mountain stages.
“We will ride for whoever is strongest. We have three cards to play. Andy is strong, but he’s not considered a GC threat. Frank is in yellow and Carlos proved he’s strong at Prato Nevoso, so we’re in good position,” Riis said. “We’re not here to defend the yellow jersey, we’re trying to win the yellow jersey.”
In short, that means if Sastre has the legs, he’ll have freedom to attack.
Some are trying to stir up some polemic by suggesting that Andy Schleck, who is powering back at his best after struggling up the Hautacam climb to fall out of contention, might be more inclined to ride for his older brother.
One of the team’s strongest characteristics is its one-for-all, all-for-one mentality, forged at the team’s legendary team-building camps in the woods of Denmark each winter.
The elder Schleck even said that if Sastre is stronger, he’ll throw his support behind his Spanish teammate.
YJ No. 6
The 2008 Tour de France is closing in on a record. Frank Schleck became the sixth yellow jersey of this year’s edition, narrowing in on the record of eight yellow jerseys in one single Tour.
So far this year, Alejandro Valverde, Roman Feillu, Stefan Schumacher, Kim Kirchen, Cadel Evans and Frank Schleck have worn the yellow tunic. With six riders packed within 46 seconds of each other going into the final, that number is sure to grow.
The record for yellow is in 1987 when eight different riders held the jersey in what was one of the wildest, most unpredictable Tours ever. With defending champion Greg LeMond out with injury, the Tour was up for grabs.
Jelle Nijdam won the opening prologue for one day and lost it to Lech Piasecki, who became the first and only Polish rider to wear the yellow jersey. After two days in yellow, he lost it to German sprinter Erich Maechler, who held the jersey for six days.
Charly Mottet took it in the first long time trial won by Stephen Roche, before losing it to Martial Gayant, who won Stage 11, before Mottet reclaimed it in Pau to eventually end up fourth overall. Jean-Francois Bernard won a time trial up Mont Ventoux, but lost it to Roche. Pedro Delgado made a strong run for overall victory in the Alps, only to lose it to Roche in a penultimate-day time trial.
Rumor mill churns
Despite a quiet couple of days on the doping front, rumors are still churning that the hammer is about to drop on the Tour de France again.
One reporter from a French news wire service said an official from the French anti-doping agency said something could break early this week. Why? Because the French like to take their weekends off and said they won’t get to the paperwork until Monday morning.
Whether that’s true remains to be seen. What’s sure is that most people believe they haven’t seen the last of doping scandals on this Tour.
Following the devastating positives from Manuel Beltrán, Moises Dueñas and Riccardo Riccò (which could lead two sponsors – Barloworld and Saunier Duval – to abandon the sport), it seems that more positives are inevitable.
Testers are cranking up the heat. Following Sunday’s stage, no less than 14 riders were tested. CONI drug testers headed up the anti-doping protocol during the Tour’s quick detour into Italy and it will fall back onto France’s AFLD once the Tour climbs back over the Alps on Wednesday.
Things seem to be reaching a fever pitch, however, at least among some imaginative minds of some journalists hot on the doping trail.
Saturday evening, Silence-Lotto manager Marc Sergeant took the extraordinary step to issue a press release denying rumors reported on German TV that authorities were raiding the team’s hotel. Instead, it was some police of the Tour’s police entourage having a few post-stage beers with Sergeant and other team staff.
Simoni confirmed for 2009
Two-time Giro d’Italia champ Gilberto Simoni will return for one more season. Diquigiovanni team manager Gianno Savio told VeloNews that Simoni has signed a contract extension with the Italian continental team.
“We have confirmed sponsors and Simoni will race one more year with us,” Savio said. “He will do like he did this year, prepare and race the Giro in the first half of the season and then race (marathon) mountain bikes for the rest of the year.”
Savio, who lives in nearby Torino, dropped into the Tour rest day media room to press the flesh with journalists. He also said that the team has confirmed contracts with Alessandro Bertolini, Michele Scarponi and three South American riders. Savio expressed optimism his team would be back at the Giro for next season.
Valverde hasn’t given up podium hopes
Alejandro Valverde was back with the best in Sunday’s summit run to Prato Nevoso in a strong performance that revived his hopes for a strong overall result.
Valverde held the first yellow jersey, but faded on the road to Hautacam in the Pyrénées that looked to derail his hopes of finishing among the top 5. But on the same day that teammate and 2006 Tour winner Oscar Pereiro nearly died in a spectacular crash, Valverde was able to stay with the attacks up Prato Nevoso.
Though he’s ninth at 4:11 back, Valverde hasn’t given up on a miracle run for the podium.
“To be on the podium in Paris is something that is still complicated, but not impossible. Two very difficult stages are left,” Valverde said in a team release. “I would like to try and win another stage, but it will not be easy because they for sure won’t let me go with a break.”
The reigning Spanish national champion says he’s recovered from his crash in stage 5, which he squarely blamed for his poor performance in the Pyrénées.
“I am confident for the next stages. I have totally recovered from my crash in the fifth stage, physically and mentally. I am back in my place and I hope that I will be able to achieve something great in one of the two next stages,” he said. “Without Oscar at our side it will be much more difficult but I know I can count with David Arroyo to stay with me till the final part of the most difficult mountains and I am confident.”
Pereiro, meanwhile, spent the night in a hospital in Cuneo and left for Spain on Monday, where he will be operated on for a broken left arm.
Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) was hoping to become the first Belgian to finish in the top 10 since Johan Bruyneel was seventh in 1993. Despite high hopes, Devolder never found his form and abandoned early in Sunday’s stage.
“The Tour de France was very hard for me. In Brest I got sick and spent three days with a fever. I really wanted to do well in the first week of the race, until the first day of rest, to understand what would have been my real value to the Tour,” Devolder said in a team statement. “In the stage with Tourmalet and the arrival in Hautacam, things didn’t go as well as I had hoped, and I lost a lot of time. From that day forward I lost the feeling. I tried setting goals for myself, I tried to motivate and get back in the race mentally, but to no avail. Yesterday on the Col Agnel I was completely empty and I chose to stop.”
Devolder, who won the Tour of Flanders this year, said he would take time to reflect about his future.
“Before the Tour maybe I gave it too much, that is to say, I competed in a lot of races with the objective of winning, but to my way of thinking regarding cycling, it’s difficult to think of racing without riding to try to win. When I feel well I love racing to win,” Devolder said. “In the future I will probably have to change my mindset and concentrate more on specific goals. We’ll see. In the next few weeks I’ll have time to talk things over with the team’s technical staff and make a well considered decision.”
Dirk Demol, who left his longtime position at Discovery Channel to become the team’s grand tour director, said Devolder still has a lot to learn before riding well at the Tour. Demol also shot down rumors that he’s heading to Astana as a sport director next season.