Leopard Trek leaders fail to distance Contador
The Tour de France stage to Plateau de Beille may have failed to provide the fireworks Cadel Evans (BMC) expected amongst the big-name contenders, but the stage still offered a tense battle with a number of key rivals marking each other closely.
Both Andy and Frank Schleck (Leopard) made several attacks but neither brother was able - or more possibly willing - to blow the race apart. Their manager Brian Nygaard suggested that most of the contenders for yellow were on a similar level but on reflection, the Leopard Trek camp may see the last stage in the Pyrenees as a missed opportunity.
"We tried several times but the only other one that was a little bit interested was Ivan Basso," complained Frank Schleck at the finish.
"All the others just looked at each other. Ivan, my brother and myself, we tried to actually race. Towards the end in the last two kilometres I was suffering but I was happy with my race."
Historically, Plateau de Beille has served up a key indicator as to who would go on to win the Tour de France but today's ramifications can only truly be assessed in Paris in just over a week. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) again rode defensively, but could go on to find his feet later in the race.
"Well, it doesn't seem like he has the upper hand like in the years before, so he is beatable," Frank Schleck said once he'd reached the Leopard Trek team bus.
"Andy was very strong and it was perfect. I told him to go and when to wait and we had really good communication, but it's just a pity we couldn't take time out of anybody, but that's how it is. There's still a lot of days to come."
Just a few metres away Saxo Bank's Bjarne Riis seemed slightly more upbeat – a complete contrast to the Riis that locked himself away in a team car with Contador after the stage finish to Luz-Ardiden.
Nygaard acknowledged that Contador was still a huge threat in the rac,e but refused to say whether stage 14 had been a missed chance and that the Schleck's style of short attacks rather than an all-out attempt to test Contador was the right tactic.
"Contador is getting better but not to the point where he can be off and away. He can still have that day and take a tonne of time. It's hard to say if he can win the Tour. The way it looks like now, I'd have to say no at the moment. I think the favourites are all at the same level. There wasn't one guy that had that extra punch."
And as for Evans, his prediction for fireworks wasn't perhaps totally off the mark. It was mainly due to his measured aggression that the Schlecks weren't able to cause more problems. Contador might be back in the race but Evans is now becoming the favourite.
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