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Fränk Schleck (CSC-Saxo Bank) heads into the final week with a close lead of seven seconds
In the most suspenseful Tour de France for years, there are still six riders within a minute heading...
In the most suspenseful Tour de France for years, there are still six riders within a minute heading into the race's final week. The top three are separated by a mere eight seconds. Before the final showdown in the Alps, the riders spend their second rest day in neighbouring Italy. Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake and Shane Stokes reflect on the week that was and look ahead at what is still to come.
Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) lost his one-second lead to Fränk Schleck (CSC-Saxo Bank) in the first Alpine stage. But Evans is hardly out of contention, sitting just eight seconds back. Nonetheless the Australian has dropped to third as Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner) moved up into second place. Kohl is only seven seconds adrift from the older of CSC-Saxo Bank's Schleck brothers. It can't get much more suspenseful than this.
Three more riders are still within reach of the yellow jersey, with fourth placed Denis Menchov (Rabobank) still sitting pretty at 38 seconds back. Menchov rode into Italy strongly, despite a crash on the lower slopes of the Prato Nevoso. American Christian Vande Velde (Garmin Chipotle - H30) is another general classification hopeful, sitting just one second further back in fifth place. Even Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank) in sixth can still dream of yellow, being only 46 seconds back. By all accounts the little Spanish climber gets better in the third week.
What makes the scenario especially interesting is the fact that the sextet is divided right down the middle. Schleck, Kohl and Sastre are from the mountaineering department. Evans, Menchov and Vande Velde are really strong against the clock. But none of them are slackers in their weaker discipline, either.
A big doping scandal prevented last week from becoming as quiet for the general classification contenders as they had hoped for. Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott) returned a non-negative A sample from the time trial in Cholet, which led to the Italian being thrown out of the race before Stage 12 started. In fact his entire team left the race, with fellow stage winner Leonardo Piepoli reportedly revealing to team management later that it was he who supplied Riccò with the third generation EPO substance. Both riders have since been sacked from the team.