Leipheimer and Contador on overall agenda
By Gregor Brown in Castres
The Discovery Channel team strategy remains open as Team Manager Johan Bruyneel points toward reaching three objectives by July 29, when the Tour de France ends in Paris. The time trial in Albi and Pyrénées loom where the Belgian believes his "quiet" approach will pay dividends.
"We did not start with one of the favourites and we want to remain like that," commented Bruyneel Friday morning in Montpellier to Cyclingnews. The team used to be 'Team Armstrong' but its days of controlling the race are over as now Bruyneel's charges have freedom for individual glory. Levi Leipheimer is aiming for the overall victory while Alberto Contador is hoping to maintain the Maillot Blanc of best young rider.
"Bit by bit," continued Bruyneel in regards to how the top-contenders are fading away, referring to the bad luck of Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) and Christophe Moreau (Ag2r Prévoyance). "The favourites are Klöden, Evans and, probably, Valverde. We have two guys up there right now that are doing good but we did not come here with the intention or obsession to dominate the race or to win the race. I think our best chances are to stay quiet and see what happens with the other guys.
While the classifications battles are waged Yaroslav Popovych will have his freedom in escapes. "We don't have to control the race and we can send someone in breakaways. If it is 'Popo' or George [Hincapie] or [Egoi] Martínez or [Vladimir] Gusev... we have different guys who can try. It is not like in the Armstrong days where we needed eight guys around the leader.
"Winning a stage in the Tour is not easy. Everyone wants to try to win a stage, and we will definitely try to win a stage, but as I said we have three objectives."
Bruyneel underlined his team's goals for the 94th Tour. "Our main objective is to get Levi on the podium, the second objective is the white jersey with Alberto Contador and the third objective is a stage win. At the moment, things are still in place to obtain these three objectives." The Spanish/Ukrainian duo of Contador and 'Popo' turned the screws on their competition last Tuesday to Briançon and helped force Vinokourov further out of contention.
He is also reckoned that Contador and Leipheimer can work together to achieve their own individual successes. "I think so. I think so. They both have different styles and different strategies. Levi is the guy who is always there, always being very consistent. Contador is more of an explosive rider who tries an attack. They both deserve the protection in different areas.
"Right now things are going good. [Leipheimer] is not one of the favourites and he will try to do as good as he can, and for that, you need to be just consistent. It is good for him." Bruyneel is optimistic that luck will be on his team leader's side. "I hope, and I may be wrong, that if he would have a bad day it would have happened already."
The time trials were fundamental to Armstrong's seven successful Tour de France wins. The Texan would preview the parcours in advance, however, Bruyneel explained that Leipheimer has not yet seen the Albi's 54-kilometre test. "We will go to see it tomorrow morning. I think it will be good for him. There are stronger time trialers than him but I hope that he can be up there. Both courses are good for him, so I expect him to stay in contention, especially after the first time trial."
Cadel Evans, at 2'41" back, is the overall contender closest to taking the maillot jaune from Rasmussen, but Bruyneel also pointed towards the winner of this year's Tirreno-Adriatico, Andreas Klöden. "I think the time trial will suit Levi. I think it is a good course for him. I think Evans and Klöden are, maybe, going to be better than him. But I expect him to be right there with everyone else."
Saturday's parcours takes the riders out of Albi, where the Tour has visited ten times before, and east to Ambialet. The return along the Tarn River is marked by the fourth category climb of La Baulzié.