It couldn’t have been a better day on the Tour de France for the Danish CSC-Saxo Bank team. All they need now to finish this year’s race in seventh heaven is for Australia’s Cadel Evans to have an off-day on the penultimate stage time trial this Saturday. On Wednesday’s third and final alpine stage of what has been a thrilling yellow jersey battle CSC hammered home their dominance to leave Evans’ victory hopes hinged, for the second year running, on the race’s final time trial.
Team CSC started the 210 km stage from Embrun to here with a plan to attack Evans on the final, 13.3km climb to the Alpe d’Huez, and in the end it came through. Spaniard Carlos Sastre started the day 49secs adrift of overnight leader and teammate Frank Schleck but put in a race-winning attack at the foot of the Alpe to take victory 2 minutes 15 seconds ahead of Evans to take the yellow jersey.
Evans is now 1:34 behind Sastre and, as arguably the strongest time triallist from the race’s top five, is still firmly in contention for an historic first yellow jersey. CSC manager Bjarne Riis would not, however, be denied his moment of glory. Putting the threat of Evans to one side, the Dane was over the moon.
“We knew we had to attack to drop everyone,” Riis said after the stage. “When Sastre attacked first at the bottom, he was really strong. Our plan came together perfectly and I’m proud of every one of my team.”
Riis’ thoughts were squarely on the day’s success and not on the likelihood of overall victory in Paris. “Whether Carlos wins on Saturday or not doesn’t matter. He is already a champion,” Riis insisted.
Sastre claimed his maiden Tour stage win in 2003, but he had yet to wear the maillot jaune, much less within the final week of racing.
“I’m going to be celebrating with my teammates,” Sastre said after what was arguably the performance of his career. “I have at least two days to enjoy being in yellow. Without their help I wouldn’t be in this position.”ÿ
Meanwhile, former race leader Frank Schleck might have lost the yellow jersey, however his sacrificing by Riis was logical as Sastre has a better chance of challenging Evans in the time trial on Saturday. The Luxembourg champion conceded that Sastre’s 1:34 lead on Evans may not be enough to win them the Tour. But he added, “what we did today is just amazing. Hats off to all the guys.
“I don’t know if the advantage (over Evans) will be enough for us, but this morning we knew we had to go out and really make them suffer,” Schleck added. “The end result is that Carlos has the yellow jersey, I’m in second place overall and Andy (Schleck) has the white jersey.”
Andy Schleck, who took the white jersey for the best placed rider 25 years old and under, is considered a future Tour contender. But for now, he wants to savour Sastre’s win. “No one could follow Carlos today, he was just too strong for everybody,” the younger Schleck said. “I’m just here to learn, and gain experience. I’ll come back and aim for a podium place on the Tour.”
Saunier Duval Out, Scott Steps Up
American firm Scott, who has supplied the team’s bikes and had a contract with Saunier Duval until 2010, said they would provide financial support to the team until the rest of the season following the title sponsor’s withdrawal from the sport.
“The team will be called Scott, unless a new title sponsor comes in,” said Pascal Ducrot, a Scott company official. “After that we’re sure the team will find a new title sponsor.”
In a statement released by Saunier Duval, Scott said it was “convinced that the recent events which damaged the team’s reputation at the Tour de France were caused by individuals. We see this as an opportunity to multiply our efforts to fight against doping. In the future our own anti-doping programme will be far stricter.”
Saunier Duval, part of a German company specialising in domestic heaters and air conditioning units, is the second sponsor to turn its back on cycling at this year’s Tour de France. The first was Barloworld who acted after their rider Moises Duenas tested positive like Ricco for the banned blood booster EPO (erythrpoietin) and also like Ricco on stage four.
|A stay of execution for Saunier Duval riders as Scott steps up|
British Track Team Ready for Beijing
With names like ‘Kamakazi’ and ‘Real McHoy’ competing in the Olympic cycling events, there’s no doubt the two-wheeled battle for gold in Beijing will come with color and entertainment. But once in the saddle, the pleasantries will be put to one side as four, and often more, years of gruelling Olympic preparation reaches its climax. A total of 54 medals will be on offer from the 18 finals in cycling’s four disciplines of road cycling, track, mountain bike and BMX in Beijing, and 30 of those medals will be won at the Laoshan velodrome.
Already, Britain has laid virtual claim to a significant share of the 10 track golds on offer. Traditional track rivals Australia, and to a lesser extent France, were left in the Brits’ wake at the last two World Championships in 2007 and 2008. At Manchester in March, the hosts claimed a stunning 11 of the 54 total medals, including nine golds. The star of the show was Scotland’s Chris Hoy- dubbed the ‘Real McHoy’ by fans- who may target three golds having switched to the speed events after the four-lap race against the clock, in which he holds the Olympic title and record, made way for BMX.
In Manchester Hoy set out his Olympic stall by becoming world sprint champion for the first time, defending his keirin title and helping Britain to team sprint silver behind France. Hoy’s anticipated battle with Dutch speed master Theo Bos, Kevin Sireau of France and Australian Ryan Bayley, the reigning sprint and keirin champion who has struggled for form, should be one of the highlights of the Games.
The much lankier frame of Bradley Wiggins will continue Britain’s bid in the men’s pursuit, in which he is reigning champion. Wiggins is also a key member of Britain’s new world record holding pursuit team, which is expected to challenge Australia or Denmark for the gold. It is a tribute to their vision that the GB track squad boasts a former Olympic rowing medal winner in Rebecca Romero, who is targeting gold in the pursuit – one of the three women’s Olympic track titles – as reigning world champion. There’s also 19-year-old Shanaze Reade, a world champion in the non-Olympic event of team sprint, who will only compete in BMX in Beijing – albeit as the reigning world champion in that too.
With BMX making its debut in the full hope of impressing expecting Olympic bosses, the Laoshan BMX circuit will be looking to host two days of spills and thrills. Especially with characters like Kamakazi. Formerly known as plain old Jamie Hildebrandt before he changed his name by deed poll for 200 dollars in 2001, Kamakazi secured his Olympic berth last weekend and could now be hoping to make a real name for himself.
|Cavendish (left) and Wiggins are looking for gold on the Beijing boards|