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Luxembourg's champion, Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)
Younger Schleck reflects on Tour's first week
Andy Schleck believes his chance to win the Tour de France lies in next week's Alpine stages. After nine days of racing, including three Pyrenean mountain stages, he trails rivals Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong by a minute and a half.
"The Alps will be greatly different," said Schleck on Monday in Limoges, during the Tour de France's first rest day. "We will see a lot of damage in stage 17 with the Col de Romme and the other four climbs."
Schleck, 24, finished 11th and won the young riders classification in the 2008 Tour de France. This year, he started the race as one of the favourites alongside Saxo Bank teammate and brother, Fränk Schleck, who finished fifth last year.
The younger of the siblings, Andy lost one minute in the opening time trial, 41" to Armstrong in the windy finale to La Grande-Motte, 40" in the team time trial and 21" to Contador on Friday's Arcalís mountaintop finish. He is currently 1:49 back on race leader Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale), 1:43 on Contador and 1:41 on Armstrong. Fränk is 2:25 back and sitting in 13th overall.
"My mistake was not being up front when Armstrong went in the cross winds," said Andy. "I could have tried more and gone with Contador on Arcalís, but other favourites have more pressure. They will have to attack from first day in the Alps to gain some time back otherwise it is finished for them."
The Tour presents three difficult Alpine stages next week. Starting on Sunday, the riders face a 207.5-kilometre stage to Verbier, 159 kilometres on stage 16 to Bourg-St-Maurice and 169.5 kilometres to Le Grand-Bornand on stage 17.
"I am 1:40 behind Contador, it is a lot, but in the climbs that can change one day to the next. Carlos Sastre and Cadel Evans are much further back and will have to attack. Carlos won't take time on the final time trial and to wait until the Ventoux stage  is risky."
Though Astana currently controls the overall classification, the tension between its two leaders should be an advantage to Team Saxo Bank. The team's close relationship helped them win last year's Tour with its former rider, Sastre.
"If Andy is going to be strong in the climbs, of course I am going to sacrifice myself. Further than that I would give my life for my family," said Fränk.
He is uncertain how much Armstrong and Contador's tensions will affect the team, but knows his relationship with Andy is much stronger. "Yes, that I can assure."
The Tour de France continues tomorrow with a 194.5-kilometre stage to Issoudun. It, and the following four stages leading up to Sunday's first alpine test are not expected to alter the overall classification.