At CSC's rest day press conference, the team that currently holds the yellow jersey discussed its plans for the next two weeks as the race hits the mountains and designated general classification rider Ivan Basso is expected to challenge.
Basso, who finished third in last year's Tour de France, was the only rider who could stay with Lance Armstrong in the mountains in 2004. But while everyone else is looking forward to today's first severe mountain stage, Basso thinks the crucial climbs this year will not come until the Tour hits the Pyrenees.
"Everybody sees the next two days as decisive but I think that the Pyrenees will decide the winner," said Basso. "In the Pyrenees, you have two finishes at the top after several climbs. That's going to be really tough especially after the stages here [in the Alps]."
After leading the Giro d'Italia earlier this year, Basso is a favourite to threaten Lance Armstrong in this Tour, but he says his immediate ambitions are more modest> "I would love to snatch another win there as I climbed on the podium [in La Mongie] in the Pyrenees. It was a great moment."
But the results in the mountains will depend on how Basso's form compares to his rivals and he admits there's no way of being sure yet. "I'm feeling pretty good physically," he said. "But what I don't know is what shape my opponents are in ... as we didn't have any real chance to test ourselves last week. At least tomorrow will be the real test we are all looking for."
Basso's team manager Bjarne Riis, the 1996 Tour de France champion, agreed. "Tomorrow, we will know," he said. "We will know who is strong enough and who is not."
Riis hinted at the team's strategy over the next two week. If Riis has his way, we are in for fireworks in the mountains. "If you want to beat Lance, if you want to win this Tour, you have to attack, not just follow," he said.
However, it doesn't look like CSC will defend the yellow jersey at all costs. The team's ebullient German rider jens Voigt currently holds the race lead but admits he's no climber. The plan is to hand over the jersey to a team-mate, but Voigt said the team does not feel pressured to hang on to it.
"Armstrong is the one who is here to win the Tour," he said. "He has to take responsibilities in the race. The pressure is on his shoulders not on ours.
"He gave the jersey away yesterday (Sunday) but we are not going to do his job."
Julich plays role model
One CSC rider who is enjoying his own job is Bobby Julich. The American, who was third in the Tour in 1998, has found a new lease of life at CSC, winning the Paris-Nice stage race earlier this year. He is also enjoying acting as a mentor to the team's younger riders dave Zabriskie and Ivan Basso.
"Ivan is one of the main reasons why I'm in the team. I see a lot of me in him," said Julich. "Like me, he was 26 when he made it on the podium [in 2004] and he has had to face the same pressure. He often comes to me to ask questions. He has a lot of confidence in me and it's a huge compliment."
Julich put immense pressure on himself to perform after that Tour podium spot, but didn't perform at the very highest level again until he joined CSC in 2004. It was that or quit cycling, and he feels the chance to nurture a talent like Basso made the decision worthwhile.
"I think he learnt a lot by seeing me race, especially in time trials," said Julich. "In the Tour of the Basque Country, he followed my time trial in the car and it helped him see how I was taking curves, how I was using the course."
Although his 19-second advantage over Basso on general classification makes him an obvious candidate to take the yellow jersey if Voigt relinquishes it today, Julich has no illusions that he is a candidate for overall victory.
"Honestly, with Ivan Basso, we have a much better chance for the overall standings," he said. "Of course I have personal goals. I'd like to win a stage, and especially the last time trial in St Etienne on the penultimate day."