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Saxo banks on Schleck, Cancellara in California

By:
Kirsten Frattini
Published:
May 20, 2010, 6:16 BST,
Updated:
May 20, 2010, 10:37 BST
Edition:
First Edition Cycling News, Thursday, May 20, 2010
Race:
Amgen Tour of California
Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Franchesco Chicchi (Liquigas) roll out towards the start line.

Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Franchesco Chicchi (Liquigas) roll out towards the start line.

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Haedo's brace of second places can be added upon

Halfway through the Amgen Tour of California's and ProTour team Saxo Bank has yet to win a stage, although the squad is banking on Andy Schleck and Fabian Cancellara to bring home a victory before the race concludes on May 23 in Thousand Oaks-Agoura Hills.

"We weren't focusing on GC realistically from the beginning," said the squad's directeur sportif, Bobby Julich. "It will be Andy's day on Big Bear and we will have Fabian for the time trial. We still have Jens Voigt in the GC so if we could do something for him that would be great. That would be fantastic."

Schleck showed signs of struggle on stage three's decisive climb over Bonny Doon Road. Three-time defending champion, Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) made an effort that caused a split at the front of the field and the only riders able to follow were Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) and current race leader Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions).

"We wanted Andy to give it a shot," said Julich. "He wasn't feeling great but you can't not try. He tried and he wasn't good and Bjarne [Riis] told him to pull the pin on the climb so that was what he did."

"He just had a bad day and he definitely had a tough Spring," he added. "He came onto form right for the Classics. He had to take a break and it was right before this. He is just not switched on yet but he will be fine. It won't be the end of the world."

Schleck pulled out from the Challenge Majorca in February due to a lingering knee injury after which he made a full recovery and raced through the Spring Classics before taking a break to rest up for the Amgen Tour.

"I had a crash in December with a car and a bike and after that I had knee injury," Schleck explained. "I recovered well and I'm happy to be here and hopefully will prepare for the Tour de France the best way possible."

The Amgen Tour of California's move from its traditional February spot on the calendar to May allowed race organisers to bank on warmer weather and take the event into the Sierra Mountains. The fifth edition of the race is said to be the toughest, offering less opportunities for the sprinters.

The team was hoping its Argentinean sprinter JJ Haedo would come through with a stage win in the event's opener that finished on the streets of Sacramento. Haedo placed second to the odds-on favourite, 10-time Tour de France stage winner Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia).

The opening stage was the only true opportunity for the sprinters, being predominantly downhill for 168km; however, the teams with the fastest men believed stage four had potential for a field sprint. It did, and Haedo placed second again, this time to the Italian Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas-Doimo).

"It was JJ's day in Modesto on stage four," said Julich. "It was probably about it for the sprints for him so we wanted to give every thing we have for him."

Haedo is no stranger to the Amgen Tour of California's top spot on the podium, having won stages in three previous editions. He captured victories in stages one and four in 2006, stages two and six in 2007 and stage one in 2008. He did not win a stage last year, however.

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