Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) slid out of the battle for final overall victory at the Tour de France on Saturday’s first mountain stage to Ax 3 Domaines but the Luxembourger remained optimistic about his chances of making an impact later in the race.
Schleck was with the leaders at the foot of the final climb but he was one of many riders dropped when Sky’s Richie Porte took over on the front to set up stage victory for his teammate Chris Froome. Schleck finished the stage in 21st place, 3:34 down on Froome.
Given his travails over the past two years, RadioShack had downplayed Schleck’s chances before the Tour began although his solid negotiation of the tricky early week provided some grounds for optimism.
“I had to let them go, but I was happy to be in that small group at the bottom of the last climb,” Schleck told his team website. “The rhythm was a bit too hard for me, though; I can’t deny that. I decided immediately to do the climb in my own pace. Some people hoped for a ‘from zero to hero’ moment from me but we didn’t get this scenario. I will not win this Tour de France but I knew before the start I was not a favourite. There are still good moments to come in this Tour.”
Schleck paid tribute to the efforts of Froome and Porte, who finished first and second on the stage and have seized control of the overall standings, although he warned that they could pay for their efforts later in the race.
“I give big respect to Sky. They were impressive and deserved this victory, but this is just the first of the mountain stages,” he said.” The Tour is still long. They can pay later for what they do now.”
Schleck was reluctant, too, to write off the chances of his old sparring partner Alberto Contador, with whom he shared a memorable duel on Ax 3 Domaines in the 2010 Tour. “It’s hard to judge him today. There was the heat and his allergies, plus it’s the first mountain stage. There were plenty of people who lost time today – only Froome didn’t.”