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By Andrew Hood
Schleck moving up
Andy Schleck quietly slipped into the best young rider’s white jersey in Sunday’s preview in the Pyrénées.
So far, the 22-year-old Luxembourger has been riding quietly under the radar. That could change in dramatic fashion in Monday’s summit finish to Hautacam.
“I’ve never ridden up Hautacam but all these French climbs are new for me. I saw it on TV when Bjarne (Riis) won it in 1996,” Schleck said. “There’s been a lot of talk going on how strong the Schleck brothers are, but we’ll see in the next days how good we can be.”
After finishing second overall in his grand tour debut at last year’s Giro d’Italia, pundits believe that Schleck has the right stuff to win the Tour someday. Some even picked him as an outsider to win this year in his Tour debut.
On paper, the younger Schleck is here to help older brother, Frank, and Spanish captain Carlos Sastre.
“I’ve had a great preparation for the Tour this year and I have really good form right now, I hope to use in the coming days. We’re in the mountains now, this is my terrain,” said Schleck after receiving kisses from the podium girls. “We will ride for Carlos these coming days, but we also have me and Frank ready to attack. It’s better for the team to have three cards to play.”
Schleck did well in the first week, but lost about 45 seconds on the stage to Super-Besse when he was caught up behind the crashing Stefan Schumacher. He was squeezed against the barriers and had to get off his bike and remount his slipped chain, losing about 45 seconds on a day when he was safely tucked in with the favorites.
Schleck rode with calm beyond his years Sunday and crossed the line 27th with the main pack of GC favorites.
We caught up with smooth Schleck before the start of Sunday’s ninth stage in Toulouse and the ever-confident Luxembourger was sounding as cool as ever.
“We are where we want to be. I was unlucky that I lost some seconds in this one stage when I got stuck behind Schumacher (stage 6), otherwise I would have been sixth or fifth already. Now that the mountains are coming up, maybe I can take it back,” Schleck said. “I’m okay. The legs are feeling a little tired after a week of racing, but that’s the same for everyone.”
As for the Tour, he’s not obsessing about it right now. He’s just soaking it all in.
“The Tour is a special race, but it’s also hard. It’s nice with the fans and the history,” he said. “You know me, I’m an easy guy.”
Evans’ helmet speaks volumes
Cadel Evans didn’t have many words for journalists after coming across the line battered and bruised, but former VeloNews European correspondent Rupert Guinness unwittingly found himself the center of attention at the finish-line scrum.
The quote-hungry journalistic horde chased after Evans, who soon disappeared into a team van without saying a word. One journalist at the line overheard Evans say, “I don’t know what happened.” Another heard him yell to his Belgian bodyguard, “make sure no one touches my shoulder.”
The disappointed newshounds turned away when there was a tap from behind the darkened window and Evans opened up the door and handed Guinness his battered helmet and said, “Here’s your interview” and promptly shut the door.
The befuddled Guinness, who’s known for his penchant of wearing colorful Hawaiian t-shirts, soon found himself surrounded by TV crews and journalists.
One quick-thinking cameraman asked Guinness to describe the helmet and the Australian, who openly admits he knows almost nothing about cycling’s technical side, was soon doing his best Richard Attenborough impersonation to describe the intricacies and nuances of Evans’ shattered helmet.
In a pure TV moment, a French TV journalist asked, “Okay, Rupert, very good, now can you do it again, but this time shorter?”
Monday’s summit finish up Hautacam (14.4km at 7.2%) has only been used three times in Tour history, but it always proves decisive.
Whoever wore the yellow jersey at the end of the punishing climb has gone on to claim over victory.
The first time the twisting, unrelenting climb was featured was in the 1994 Tour. Luc Leblanc won the stage, but Miguel Indurain defended the yellow jersey and went on to win his fourth of five Tour victories.
In 1996, Bjarne Riis won the stage to confirm his dominating victory, one later stained when the Dane admitted he used the banned blood booster EPO to fuel his victory.
In 2000, Lance Armstrong finished second to Javier Otxoa to put huge time gaps into such rivals as Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani to win second of seven Tour crowns.
Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d’Epargne) isn’t giving up hope on another miracle Tour de France. A Tour winner by default in 2006 after Floyd Landis failed an anti-doping control, Pereiro is quietly poised if team star Alejandro Valverde tumbles in the mountains.
“I’m riding to support Alejandro without forgetting my own possibilities,” Pereiro told VeloNews before Sunday’s start. “I’m actually feeling very good. The team is strong and I have good legs. I’ve been in the top 10 of every Tour I’ve done, so I can expect that and perhaps even more this year.”
Pereiro enters Monday’s decisive climbing stage to Hautacam eighth overall, tied with Stijn Devolder at 1:21 back. Caisse d’Epargne looks strong, but wants to keep its second option in play with Pereiro if Valverde falters in the high mountains.
“I’m not discounting the podium. You never know what can happen. This Tour is very unpredictable. Someone could ride away with the yellow jersey (Sunday), but it could also be very tight coming out of the Pyrénées,” he continued. “That means stronger, more experienced riders will have the advantage. The GC is very close — it makes for more fun racing.”
Pereiro knows that the peloton will never give him a 30-minute gift like what happened in the 2006 Tour, when he took back time and vaulted into the yellow jersey after Phonak called off the chase in the transition stage to Montélimar.