By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême
Before and after stage 18, Cyclingnews talked with Discovery Channel team managers Dirk Demol and Johan Bruyneel, who have guided their team to the enviable position of defending first and third places in the general classification with only one definitive time trial left before the final parade into Paris.
All the pressure on the Discovery Channel team has ended up on the shoulders of young Spaniard Alberto Contador, who's currently leading the general classification. Contador will face off against Predictor Lotto's Cadel Evans, now in second place, in Saturday's final Tour de France time trial. Directeur sportif Dirk Demol reminded us that the yellow jersey does strange things with the riders who wear it.
When asked if he felt a one-two finish was possible for the American team given that Levi Leipheimer is within just a minute Evans, Discovery team manager Johan Bruyneel said, "Evans will also try to ride the time trial of his life, so it will be very difficult for Leipheimer to get past him; if we can keep the yellow jersey, then we'll be happy," the Belgian director said.
Adjusting to yellow
"Contador found it hard to be suddenly offered that yellow jersey; we were at peace with [being in] second place," Demol reflected on how the team was suddenly in the yellow jersey after the departure of Michael Rassmussen (Rabobank) from the Tour late Wednesday. "He's young, and before the Tour, we didn't know how he would react during the third week. We noticed that he was near the limit in the mountains although the motivation of a yellow jersey can help a lot, of course. We believe we can do it," Demol said.
Bruyneel said it isn't easy to predict the result of the time trial because there wasn't much data to compare the two riders. "Evans is more of a time trialist specialist than Contador, so that's a disadvantage for us, but I don't think the difference can be so big as to lose the yellow jersey. Anyway you never know, if Evans has a super day, and Alberto an off day, then it's all possible; otherwise it should be no problem," Bruyneel claimed.
"I did study the data and found out that Evans performs best in the tough time trials. The reference I have right now on a flat course is the [prologue] time trial in London where Contador took a second on Evans. If we take that as a reference, it looks good for us," Bruyneel smiled.
There's also another time trial where Evans took a few minutes on Contador and that was in the French Dauphiné Libéré HC stage race. "His [Alberto's] time trial in the Dauphiné wasn't good. Alberto had a bad day back then, but he wasn't too well there anyway. He started with a bad prologue, but he was good in the mountains. Now it's different as he starts the time trial with a killer spirit to keep the yellow jersey," Bruyneel said.
The Belgian added that there was another motivation for the young Spanish rider. "Lance Armstrong will be next to me in the team car behind Alberto," Bruyneel said to Cyclingnews. The team is preparing for the time trial in detail. They will drive the course on Friday evening and again on Saturday morning.
Whatever the result will be in Paris, it will be much better than the team's performance in 2006, when they earned only a stage win for Yaroslav Popovych. "It was a year where we came with less expectations than usually, but still high enough with hopes for the podium for Leipheimer, a stage win, and the white jersey for Contador. Now we're in this unexpected position, and now we're at the eve of the battle for the war we are trying to win--the Tour," Bruyneel said, showing the spirit needed to win a war.
To read the complete feature, click here.