Wednesday, July 22, 2009

TDF 2009: Stage 17:F. Schleck: We went for the Yellow

F. Schleck: We were going for the Yellow

Pic: Frank Schleck after winning the stage and taking 3rd place in overall.

Playing an aggressive cat and mouse attack game with Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, the two Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank, took away the second and third places in the Tour today.

Contador stuck with them, and in the last climb up the Col de Colombieres, he was virtually alone, like a wolf isolated from its pack.

The moves that started in the second to last climb at the Col de Romme was both planned and expected, with the Shleck brothers working in unison to shed their fellow riders.

Pic: Andy Schleck heading into Drug control after placing second overall in the Tour (Benepe (c)

Was it also their plan to take the Yellow Jersey away from Contador? “Yes of course,” said Frank, the elder of the two at 29 years, as he stopped before walking into doping control. His and his brother’s bikes sat parked outside with their numbers on them, 36 and 31.

All of the podium finishers today as well as Andreas Kloden were tested after the race. Armstrong was not.

Andy and Frank’s mother, Gaby Schleck came to the finish line to congratulate and hug her boys. “I suffered more than they did during the stage,” she said in French. Overjoyed by their win today, before the race Mme. Schleck knew they might attack, but she never thought their intent was to be on the podium, she said.

Pic: F. Schleck hugs his mother Gaby (Benepe (c))

Andy Schleck, 24 is known to be the only rider who can successfully challenge Contador in the mountains, but today his older brother Frank did exceptionally well, agreed Kim Andersen, the second in command at Team Saxobank after manager Bjarne Riis who was nowhere to be found.

“Today the plan worked 100 percent,” said Andersen. Most importantly they wanted to shed Bradley Wiggins, whom both Saxo Bank and Astana saw as a threat for the stage win.

Pic: Andersen at Team Saxobank (Benepe (c))

Andy Schleck’s first attack about 36 km from the finish, and before the top of the second to last climb, the Col de Romme, created the desired effect of shedding riders, among them Armstrong, Kloden, Bradley Wiggins, Vincenzo Niballi, Jurgen Van den Broeck, and Christian Vande Velde.

Contador responded, as did Armstrong, and Astana’s Andreas Kloden.

But another attack by Frank Schleck came soon after, exploding the group, taking Contador, Andy, and Klodens with him but shedding Wiggins and Armstrong, as well as Vincenzo Nibali. It was a one-two punch that knocked Armstrong and Nibali to the pursuit, but eventually dropped Wiggins and Jurgen van den Broeck.
Pics: fans waiting to catch a glimpse of the Schleck brothers (Benepe (c))

At 16.7 km from the finish, Contador attacked unexpectedly and managed to lose his own teammate, Klodens, but not Andy and Frank Schleck.

“I had advised him not to go,” said the Astana team manager, Johan Bruyneel, “and it was clear he didn’t need to go, and it’s a bit of a pity that Andreas did not hold on, because now we are in first, fourth and fifth position.”

Both teams, Astana and Saxobank were trying to get rid of Bradley Wiggins whom they saw as a danger to this stage and the next mountain stage at Mont Ventoux –likely the most decisive stage of this Tour. It was part of Astana’s plan to stay conservative and not attack unless warranted, said Bruyneel, the team’s manager.

Pic: Lance speaking outside the Astana truck after the race (Benepe (c))

Both teams are now aiming for the Yellow Jersey, and as many podium placements as possible. “I am confident Alberto Contador could win Mont Ventoux,” said Bruyneel.

Can Andy Schleck have the Yellow by the time Paris rolls around? “ Yes it could be possible,” said Andersen, “If they have another day like this, anything is possible.”

In explaining why he didn’t chase Andy Schleck’s first attack, Armstrong said, “I just tried to be conservative, and I didn’t go with the initial attack, and I got stuck behind.”

Looking pale and tired, the seven time Tour winner spoke outside the team Astana van: “Once you are back 30 seconds, there is nothing you can do. In hindsight I should have gone with the first acceleration,” he added. But Armstrong appears to be playing the team song, and yesterday told reporters he will be back next year, and in better form: “The most important thing is to win the Tour, and if you have to sacrifice second and third position, you will.”

One journalist asked Armstrong what he thought of Contador’s attack—an attack that shed Klodens and isolated Contador with the two Schlecks, a danger should they try and take him together. “I am going to bite my tongue on that one,” said Armstrong.

Pic: Klodens leaving drug control after the race (Benepe (c))

Armstrong ended up catching up with Klodens on the descent, and they were able to work together to get 4th and 5th overall.

Armstrong could make up time in tomorrow’s time trial in Annecy: the two Schleck brothers are not time trialing specialists. But even if he goes back into 2nd place, he could easily lose it again the following day on Mont Ventoux. About tomorrow’s stage he said, “Well, I don’t know, we’ll see, but would be nice to get on the podium again.”

Before the attack on the Col de Romme, a breakaway of 17 riders started at the 5 km mark, and maintained a lead of about four to five minutes over the peleton, until Thor Hushovd bridged to the break, overtook them, and rode off the front gaining 15 extra points for the sprinter’s Green Jersey.
Pic: Andy Schleck's bike no. 31 (Benepe (c))

It was his way of showing Mark Cavendish and the world that the 15 points he took in a complaint against Cavendish—along with the Green Jersey—were not necessary.

And did Gaby Schleck, whose husband Johnny a former cycling professional who came in 19th in the 1970 Tour, and 20th in the 1967 Tour, when he was a domestique for Luis Ocana, a TDF winner of the Bic team, have to do anything special to have two sons that would become 2nd and 3rd place winners in the Tour de France? “No not really, they just always liked sport,” she said.

Johnny Schleck who was at the race today, but not near the finish line was the force behind the sons' love for cycling, said Gaby. Although Johnny Schleck won one stage of the Vuelta a Espana, it is clear that his sons are part of the new generation, and now already several wins ahead.

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