By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême
Luxembourg had two GC riders in the peloton that started the Tour de France in London. Kim Kirchen eventually finished on an unexpectedly strong seventh place while pre-race dark horse Fränk Schleck had to settle with a result that was ten positions lower. Kirchen had to dig deep in the time trial to keep Discovery Channel's Yaroslav Popovych from overtaking his place in the overall. He started with the fifth time at the first intermediate point, where he had 5" on 'Popo', but then he lost about a minute on the Ukrainian.
Cyclingnews talked with a happy Kirchen at the finish, where he reflected on the past three weeks. "During the first part of the Tour I was feeling very good. I had a very bad day in the Pyrenees but I continued to give everything also today in the time trial, I had a great day. I think I clinched one of the greatest results in my career."
Kirchen is surely right as he pulled off the best-ever result for Luxembourg in 45 years. "I only knew it yesterday and it's good for Luxembourg. It's good for the future and hopefully this motivates the young guys who have to work and believe in themselves if they want results." His compatriot Fränk Schleck, by contrast, had a bad time trial. The CSC rider finished in 36th place more than five minutes behind winner Leipheimer.
For Schleck, finishing on 17th place in GC when he was 10th in 2006 isn't what you call an expected result. "You cannot win in one day - it is how it is - but I'll be back next year for sure," Schleck promised, "It will be with a different preparation, not so many races." Looking back over the pre-Tour period, he questioned his preparation. "When you look back I didn't finish one single stage race outside the top-10, so I might need to 'chill out' a little bit more," he admitted. Schleck finished 8th in Paris-Nice, 10th in the Critérium International, 8th in the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, 4th in the Bayern Rundfahrt and 7th in the Tour de Suisse.
Luckily for the CSC team they had two GC-riders and Carlos Sastre didn't disappoint with his fourth place. The Spaniard rode a good time trial but the podium was never in sight. "Of course we knew that it was going to be hard for Carlos to finish on the podium. Our team only wanted him to go as hard as possible. We're not disappointed at all. We just expected him to do as good as he can," Schleck pointed out that the team was happy with Sastre's performance in this Tour. The 27 year-old Schleck had only positive words for the young winner of the Tour de France. "He's just a great rider," Schleck said. "We've seen it in Paris-Nice. He chills out and he's back for the Tour. He'll be a big champion for the coming years for sure."