- Article published:
- July 23, 2009, 20:21
- Gregor Brown
Loses nearly two minutes in Annecy, but saves second to Armstrong
Andy Schleck lost nearly two minutes in Thursday's time trial stage of the Tour de France in Annecy, but he protected his second overall ahead of Lance Armstrong.
"It was a good day. I was nervous this morning, but I had faith in the time trial. I am happy I am still second," Schleck said.
The Saxo Bank rider finished in 21st at 1:45 back from stage winner and race leader, Alberto Contador. The result puts him 4:11 behind Contador in the overall classification, but a fairly comfortable 1:14 ahead of Contador's Astana teammate, Lance Armstrong.
The performance in Annecy was a big improvement for the Luxembourger, who last year lost 3:41 in the Tour's final time trial in Saint-Amand-Montrond. He attributed his ride to work he did with former teammate Bobby Julich on his time trialing prior to the Tour de France.
"I am far from a specialist, but in Monaco I already saw some improvements. I am not losing as much time in the time trials anymore."
Schleck's older brother, Fränk, lost 2:34 in the time trial and slipped from third overall to sixth overall. He is 34 seconds behind Armstrong's third place with only one more crucial stage to Mont Ventoux on Saturday.
"I am very happy for Fränk's ride today. He was even more nervous than I was and knew he could lose a lot more than me today, but he did a good time. The most important thing will be to help Fränk on Ventoux, he helped me yesterday and I am going to help him now."
Tour de France stage 20 travels 167 kilometres and finishes with the 21.1-kilometre climb up Mont Ventoux. It should produce the final time differences prior to the final stage to Paris on Sunday.
"Maybe if Contador gets sugar flat then I would have a chance to beat him," said Andy Schleck.
Schleck has never raced up Mont Ventoux, but has previewed the climb and knows it well. He said he hopes for rain to help keep the temperatures down.
See also Andy Schleck's Tour Gallery and Blog.
- Article published:
- July 23, 2009, 21:45
- Kirsten Frattini
Peter Stetina challenges Sevilla, leads young rider classification
Several of the nation's top U23 teams are playing a key role throughout a host of National Racing Calendar (NRC) stage races this season. Top performances continued this week at the BMC Cascade Cycling Classic which saw America's brightest talent, Peter Stetina (Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin), place second to Oscar Sevilla (Rock Racing) atop stage two's mountain top finish in Three Creeks Snow Park.
Stage winner and overall race leader Sevilla displayed his climbing pedigree when he soloed to victory atop the 16-kilometre ascent. But Sevilla's win was not easy as he faced a hard-fought battle from Stetina, who stayed with the Spaniard until the final kilometre. Sevilla surged over the closing 1000 metres to finish seven seconds ahead of the young talent.
Stetina, who also leads the event's best young rider competition, is not surprised that the U23 teams like his own Felt-Holowesko Partners as well as Trek-Livestrong and Landrover-Orbea are making a strong impact in the stage races at the pro ranks.
"I think we are just as competitive as the pros," Stetina said. "Maybe some people discount us because we are young but age doesn't mean much anymore. With a ProTour team like Garmin, they choose guys who they expect to become ProTour riders in the future. Having said that, I feel like we should be able to keep up and we are showing that throughout the American races.
"We are involved in the breaks, we split the peloton and we take our place in the field and the results. I think people are realizing that we are a force to be reckoned with and that's good."
Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin kicked off the 2009 NRC season by winning the overall team competition at the Redlands Bicycle Classic with Kirk Carlsen capturing the event's Best Climber jersey. They continued their success at the Tour of the Gila with podiums on the mountain top finishes by Stetina and in the sprint stages with young sprinter Alex Howes.
The Tour of the Gila also saw Landrover-Orbea's Roman Van Uden win the criterium stage in addition to impressive attacks from reigning World Pursuit Champion Taylor Phinney (Trek-Livestrong).
When asked if there is an intimidation factor competing with riders who are in come cases 10 or 15 years older Stetina said, "No, I think we have a bunch of punks on the team and we talk back to the older riders, give them some smack - call them old!"
- Article published:
- July 23, 2009, 21:51
- Laura Weislo
Are accusations based on faulty calculations?
Ever since the Festina scandal of 1998, few Tour winners have escaped accusations of doping: not Lance Armstrong, not deposed 2006 winner Floyd Landis (the only Tour winner ever to test positive during the race) and not Alberto Contador.
The Spaniard was forced to defend himself against accusations of involvement in Operación Puerto during his winning ride in 2007, and now his commanding performances in this year's Tour have come under scrutiny.
Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond openly questioned this year's maillot jaune, this week, calling into question the Spaniard's dominant performance on the final climb of stage 15 to Verbier. The American, writing in an opinion column in the French newspaper Le Monde, equated his smashing time on the 8.5km ascent to "a Mercedes sedan winning a on a Formula 1 circuit".
LeMond's criticism arose after former Festina team trainer Antoine Vayer calculated Contador's VO2 max (his aerobic capacity) at 99.5 based on the Spaniard's time of 20:55 to ascend to the summit. Vayer, writing in Liberation.fr, based his calculation on an estimated 490 watt average he said Contador would have needed to accomplish that feat.
Yet second placed Andy Schleck was only 43 seconds behind Contador at the top, and even Lance Armstrong in ninth place 1:35 behind would have set a VO2 mark over 90 for his efforts that day, using the same logic. Nearly all of the GC contenders climbed to the top at record speed.
"For Contador, with an effort of twenty minutes at 90% VO2max, weight of 62 kg, maximum aerobic power is 493 watts, which gives an oxygen consumption of 6.17 liters / min: 99.5 ml / min / kg!" Vayer wrote.
LeMond, in response, called on Contador to prove that he is physically capable of achieving these numbers without the use of performance-enhancing products, "assuming the validity of the calculations".
But are the calculations valid?
Cyclingnews spoke with exercise physiologist Andrew Coggan to get a handle on whether or not the estimates were accurate. Coggan speculated that Vayer's calculations were off. He explained that estimating Contador's power based on his time, and then estimating his VO2 from that estimated power could be full of error.
"The problem is that there is enough 'slop' in the calculations that I don't think you can really say one way or another what is or isn't possible without use of drugs."
"What seems different is not one rider, but the climb itself ... In addition to uncertainties regarding the exact length and gradient of the climb [Vayer says it was 8.6km, the Tour guide says 8.8km -ed] and whether or not there might have been any wind, I think he has significantly overestimated Contador's power," said Coggan.
Vayer may have failed to take into account that air is less dense at altitude and also incorrectly estimated Contador's aerodynamic drag, for instance.
"Taking everything into consideration, I'd say that a more reasonable estimate of Contador's power during that ascent is about 450 W, which would require a sustained VO2 of 'only' 80 mL/kg/min. That is still quite high, but not so high that you can definitively state that it can only be achieved via doping."
Contador steadfastly refused to answer reporters' questions about his aerobic capacity in his post-race press conference on Thursday, repeating the phrase "next question" until the media focused on the race.
Coggan, however, doesn't think LeMond's query is "totally off-the-wall".
"He is more than smart enough to understand the issues. I just think that he's being misled by some bad information."
- Article published:
- July 23, 2009, 22:41
- Kirsten Frattini
Sevilla eyeing overall victory
The Rock Racing squad dominated the first mountain top finish at the BMC Cascade Cycling Classic. Its climbing prowess vaulted Oscar Sevilla and Francisco Mancebo into the top two places on general classification. Sevilla is eyeing the overall victory on Sunday in Bend, Oregon - salivating over the mountainous stages to come.
The Spaniard displayed his climbing pedigree when he soloed to the stage two victory atop Three Creeks Snow Park, a 16-kilometre ascent. Battling Peter Stetina (Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin) until the final kilometre, Sevilla kicked over the closing 1000 metres to finish ahead of Stetina and teammate Francisco Mancebo, who nipped Chris Baldwin (OUCH p/b Maxxis) at the line for third.
Sevilla recently placed fourth overall at the Vuelta a Madrid, also capturing the polka dot jersey in the three-day Spanish race. He and several teammates, including Mancebo, travelled more than 20 hours overseas to make it to the start of the Cascade Cycling Classic that began on Tuesday.
"After the racing in Madrid and a lot of travel we are a little tired," said Sevilla. "But today, on a climb like this, I was fine. We were always attentive. The whole day was very fast and the last climb was not too steep. I always kept my rhythm and saved a little bit extra for the last kilometre."
Sevilla moved into the overall lead, 27 seconds ahead of his teammate Mancebo and 35 seconds ahead of Baldwin heading into the stage three time trial. "I think all the teams are very strong right now but we have riders who can continue to win stages," said Sevilla who also moved into the KOM leader's jersey. "I have been near the top of the results for all of the time trials this year and I think I can have a good time trial tomorrow, too."
Rock Racing's eight-man line up includes Sevilla and Mancebo along with Victor Hugo Pena, Freddy Rodriguez, Nick Sanderson, Glen Chadwick, David Vitoria and Ivan Dominguez.
- Article published:
- July 24, 2009, 03:16
- Gregor Brown
First long Tour time trial in four years reaps rewards
Lance Armstrong is back in the Tour de France's top three after the stage 18 time trial in Annecy on Thursday despite finishing almost 90 seconds behind winner and Astana teammate Alberto Contador.
"I have mixed emotions. A 16th place in a time trial is not a good result but the ambition was to be on the podium and I have to be happy with that," said Armstrong.
Armstrong was fourth fasted at the first time check of 18km, but faded over the remainder of the 40.5km course. The American veteran attributed this to starting too hard and lacking power due to the previous day's mountain stage to Le Grand-Bornand.
Spaniard Contador consolidated his overall classification lead with a time of 48:30. Starting the day in third, Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) finished 2:34 behind Contador and 1:05 slower than Armstrong, meaning the seven-time Tour champion moved into third overall, 1:14 behind Andy Schleck, who remained in second on general classification.
The Tour de France ends Sunday in Paris but not before one more critical mountain stage on Saturday to Mont Ventoux. Armstrong is third overall but Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) follows closely, trailing by just 11 seconds.
Armstrong believes advancing to second overall is unlikely and is worried about the Brit behind him. "It would be hard [to move to second] with Andy climbing so well but I will try to protect [third place]. I will just watch for the moves there and don't let them get away."
Armstrong placed 10th in the Tour's opening 15.5km time trial in Monaco on July 4 and his last long time trial in the Tour was in 2005, when he won the 55km Saint-Étienne TT before going on to win his seventh Tour title.
- Article published:
- July 24, 2009, 03:24
- Les Clarke
Silence-Lotto leader looks ahead to remainder of season
As speculation mounts over the future of Cadel Evans, the Australian is maintaining perspective on a disappointing Tour de France campaign and anticipating challenges that lay ahead in 2009. Rumours abound that he could buy out his contract with Silence-Lotto and move to another squad for 2010.
Evans, runner up in the Tour in 2007 and '08, played down those claims in an interview with Fox Sports' Scott McGrory. "Rumours are just that - rumours. Actions speak louder than words. Let's see. There's another week and another month and there are plenty more races this year," said Evans following his ride in yesterday's Annecy time trial.
"One thing after another here [in the Tour] meant that my chances on the classification and making the podium are finished and that's the way it goes. There's no use making a fuss about it now. There's the world championships, [Giro di] Lombardia... next week there's another race. For the Tour though, it's not going to be my year, that's for sure."
The strong performances of Jurgen Van Den Broeck have some observers asking whether Evans will maintain his place as team leader for 2010. Recent comments from team sponsor Omega Pharma CEO Marc Coucke could be fuel for speculation, although Evans himself has said nothing that may lead to that conclusion.
"We don't want to get rid of Cadel, I can assure you this. But this is the last time Cadel will be the only leader in this team. Next year if Cadel is on the team Van Den Broeck will be at the same level; co-leader, if not above him," Coucke told ozcycling.com.
Coucke added that he's not going to hastily judge the Australian on one bad week in the Tour after the achievements of four years in the world's biggest race, where he has acquitted himself well and given the team a new level of exposure. "We could not have got to where we are without him. And we got him to a level that he wouldn't have achieved without us. So the two [parties] were happy," he said.
"For next year we have a contract. But we are always very happy with Cadel. We are not going to judge Cadel on one bad year... [But] If there wasn't Jurgen this year, I don't know if we would have accepted it."
It's undeniable that the young Belgian has outshone his older teammate during the mountain stages, although Coucke gives Evans credit for his role in helping him improve, despite the disappointments. "What has happened with Jurgen Van Den Broeck is also thanks to Cadel, because he taught us the details of preparation, diet, what is necessary to do in winter. We should accept that Cadel had a year 'sans' [without]. It is very frustrating for him. It's very frustrating for us."
Criticised for several incidents during last year's Tour, Evans is a different character in 2009 given that the pressure is off and he can recalibrate his aim for targets later in the season. In the meantime, he is maintaining perspective on life at the back of the peloton, sharing the lighter side of riding in the grupetto with reporters.
"Normally, when I ride the Tour de France - particularly in the last few years - I say, it takes 3,500 kilometres to win the Tour but only a metre to lose it, as the crash last year showed. You have to be careful about so many things - positioning, traffic islands, spectators, dogs... whatever. You have to be careful.
"You sit back in the grupetto - you're not going so fast, you're not going flat out all the time, you're not fighting for position, you're not watching where all the other GC guys are - you can sit and talk to your competitors and they ride so slow up the climbs that the fit Aussie fans can run alongside and talk [to you]," he explained.
- Article published:
- July 24, 2009, 03:29
- Daniel Simms
A blistering Contador consolidates in Annecy
Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam) - 70th on stage, 14th overall @ 15:26
"The time trial was very hard because we had to stay very concentrated and couldn't move out of the position. It cost a little more for those who aren't TT specialists to maintain this concentration and position. But the truth is I tried as best I could, with some good motivation and the sensations weren't so bad.
"Now we have Mont Ventoux, which is perhaps my last chance to do something in this Tour. I will try one more time to do something and get the spine out of my back for this race. The weather co-operated once again with us a little more than the past few days, so we had some luck with that at least."
Alberto Contador (Astana) - first on stage, first overall
"Today I have taken another important step, but I still take it day by day. There are still very important stages before Paris.
"When I saw the time that I had after the climb, I knew that I could win. Cancellara always takes a lot of time on the descents and I knew that I had to fight until the finish and remain focused. That's where I have took the three seconds for the win.
"Yesterday I could ride a bit more relaxed than my rivals in the last kilometres and it was an important factor to explain what happened today. I was thinking especially about the overall, but on having seen the advantage that I had at the end of the climb, I also thought about the stage.
"At Mont Ventoux there are others who have to attack; I will try to help Armstrong keep his position on the podium and if Klöden also obtains it, much better.
"I have heard that he [Armstrong] has a project for the future, but I want to be concentrate on the race until Paris. Only then will the moment come to think about my future and that of the team."
Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) - 22nd on stage, ninth overall @ 12:38
"The truth is, I'm satisfied with the time trial that I rode. This is my preferred terrain and I could ride pretty fast; for me it was a very nice course. We have succeeded in holding a place high in the general classification within a good time of most of our rivals in the top spots.
"After the suffering of the stage to Le Grand Bornand, now I feel better. Now it's time for the Mont Ventoux to maintain this position. In 2007 I was ninth and got away, and I will see if I can repeat that. With the stage win and I'm happy, but if you finish in the top 10, then it's much better.
"I said that we were going to give everything of ourselves. The team is completing a great race and we're achieving the goals because of that group work."
Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne) - seventh on stage, 30th overall @ 38:50
"After I had a very bad day yesterday in the mountains I wanted to take advantage of the time trial today to check if yesterday was just a bad day or if it was due to the fact that I had some problems to go through the third week of such a long race. That's the reason I started very motivated and everything went just great.
"Thanks to that I will finish the race satisfied. When I passed at the top of the climb I had the second best time behind Ignatiev, which means a lot to me. I was unlucky because just as I began the descent it started raining. The road was completely wet and I didn't want to take risks to avoid crashing. The most important thing for me is that I felt good again."
- Article published:
- July 24, 2009, 09:39
- Hedwig Kröner
Two stages left to consolidate green jersey
The current leader of the points classification, Thor Hushovd of the Cervélo TestTeam, may have a comfortable margin over his direct rival Mark Cavendish of Columbia-Highroad, but the Norwegian still may be out on the attack on the last remaining stages to consolidate his victory of the green jersey on the Champs-Elysées.
On Friday morning, Hushovd led the fast Manxman by 30 points after his solo raid over the peaks of the Alpine queen stage 17 on Wednesday. "This should be enough," he said, to retain the jersey until Paris, but with two stages remaining open to score more points, we might see the 31-year-old going for intermediate sprints again instead of waiting for a fast bunch finish.
The finish in Aubenas on Friday may be particularly suited to Hushovd to decide the outcome of the classification. With one Cat. 2 climb to be mastered some 16 kilometres before the finish line - and the Cervélo rider being a better climber than 'Cav', and excellent descender - the winner of stage six might anticipate a move depending on the race situation.
The first placings of a stage will see the winner and his chasers take 35, 30, 26 points etc. respectively. Intermediate sprints may also not be counted out, as there as there are six, four and two points up for grabs each time the riders pass a green "PMU" banner.
Finally, the prestigious victory on the 'most beautiful avenue in the world' will be sought after by both Hushovd and Cavendish - as well as many other riders. The cobbled false flat leading up to the Arc de Triomphe will be the last milestone for the Norwegian to reiterate his 2005 victory of the green jersey.