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Carlos Sastre (Cervelo)
Sastre and Hushovd are hoping to make an impact in Tour's closing days
Cervélo team leaders Carlos Sastre and Thor Hushovd are both optimistic about their their prospects going into the final four stages of the Tour de France. The pair were prominent on the pre-rest day stage to Pau. Sastre tried to attack to get across to the lead group, but when that attempt was foiled the Spaniard then helped his Norwegian teammate to stay in the yellow jersey group over the Tourmalet and Aubisque. That resulted in Hushovd contesting and winning the bunch sprint for 10th place that gave him the points he needed to regain the green jersey from Alessandro Petacchi.
Sastre admitted that the mountain stage to the summit of the Tourmalet offers him his final chance of Tour glory. "The first eight days of the race were very complicated for me, breaking two wheels in a crash on the cobbles in which I also fractured a rib. But over the last few days I've been riding much better, enjoying it more, and things have been going much more how I like them to.
"All I've been lacking in recent days is a bit of luck. I made an attempt for the stage win at Ax-3 Domaines and it didn't work out, I tried again yesterday and it was the same result. But I've got one final opportunity and if I've got the legs I will certainly be going for it again," said the 2008 Tour winner, who is lying 15th overall.
"I've always been an attack-minded rider, and I feel like I've got the form back to take advantage of that, but the stage looks particularly tough. Looking beyond that to the time trial, the roads for that are good and if the wind is behind the riders the gaps between the main contenders will be minimal. Consequently, I think the Tourmalet stage is crucial in the Tour de France. I will be up there, but quite where exactly I don't know," Sastre explained.
"I've only finished on the Tourmalet the once, when Ivan Basso won the stage at La Mongie and I was 5th or 6th. It's a mythical climb. I've felt much happier and stronger for the last three days. I'm not a rider who attacks simply for the sake of attacking, although I did do that last year because I had no form at all. But not this year. If I attack on the Tourmalet it will be because I can give my best and suffer in order to try to win."
Hushovd, meanwhile, is focusing on what he needs to do to claim a third points title, although he admitted there had been no plan to ride in the yellow jersey group to Pau. "I didn't want to take the risk of sitting in the gruppetto in case it didn't arrive inside the time limit. I had a good day and just wanted to hang on as long as possible and got the six points I needed to take back the jersey," said the Norwegian.
Asked about Petacchi's form with two likely bunch sprints in Bordeaux and Paris to come, Hushovd responded: "He is going really well this year. It's not a surprise to see him doing so well because I know he's a good rider and a good sprinter. But he's 36, and although I did mention him before the race I didn't see him as my biggest rival."
Hushovd then admitted: "The sprints haven't really gone well for me. I wish I had more power in the sprints. But in the last week of the Tour I think it's more important that you have fresh legs and feel strong when it comes to the sprints. I like sprints that are hard, but this year's have all been quite flat."
He also acknowledged that he's still mulling over the neutralisation of stage 2 to Spa. "Like I said that day, I could lose the green jersey because of what happened that day, and at the moment that's still the case. If it had gone to a sprint I would have got 20 points or maybe more, and those points would have been important today."
Hushovd then explained how the ejection of HTC-Columbia's Mark Renshaw is likely to make the final sprints more unpredictable than ever. "It will change things because if he was here everyone would know that he is going to lead out Cavendish. Now I think everyone will be expecting Lampre to lead out, so that means that we're missing one team that can guarantee a high speed for the last few hundred metres."