By Brecht Decaluwé in Brest
The CSC – Saxo Bank team is one of the strongest teams lining up for this year's Tour de France. At the pre-race press conference in Brest, manager Bjarne Riis expressed his confidence that the team has what it takes to go for the overall victory. "We'll be around the next three weeks. We'll be up there in the general classification and also in some stages. We prepared the way we wanted and I think internally we know how to handle every race situation.
"We have a very homogeneous and strong team, one of the strongest in the Tour de France, no doubt," Riis said. "Our leader is Carlos Sastre, but we also have Fränk and Andy Schleck who are also in very good condition," Riis named his three protected riders. "Sastre has never been a chrono-man, so don't expect him in the top three in the time trials. But he has worked hard during the last two months and he's ready," Riis said.
The Spanish team leader added that the course was to his advantage this year. "For me it is better this year with less TT-kilometres. I always lost time against the clock, although last year was much better after working hard on this discipline. There are a lot of mountains, and the best thing for us is that we can play many cards there," Sastre explained.
It's still unclear, even to Riis, whether Andy Schleck will be able to battle for the general classification. "It's Andy's first Tour and he must go for the general classification as long as he possibly can. Whatever happens, I'm sure that he will play his role in the mountains anyways."
Sastre will surely have the Schleck brothers around him when the peloton hits the mountains, but will probably not be on the wheel of Fränk if the roads go down again. In the most recent Tour de Suisse the Luxembourgian crashed dramatically into a ravine while battling for the stage win. While he climbed out of the ditch and finished the race, the eldest Schleck brother admitted he still thinks about the incident. "It gives me some sort of fear on the descents," Fränk Schleck said. "I guess you need to regain confidence. In the past I had some crashes and I was starting to gain confidence in Switzerland, until I hit that corner way too fast. You need to be concentrated all the time."
Nevertheless it is clear that Riis has three riders to battle the competition in the mountains, and as a result also in the GC. "I am very confident that we can be competitive, especially in the mountains. We're not a sprinter's team – although we have Stuart O'Grady for the sprints – but you will not spot us pulling in front of the peloton at three kilometres from the finish.
"The Tour de France is the hardest - one of the most difficult races in the world - with the strongest competition around. That's why we lined up a very experienced team. They know exactly what to do here." Besides the three GC riders the team also has strong men like Fabian Cancellara and Jens Voigt in their ranks. The Swiss rider could stand out for stage wins along the French road, starting with the first stage which ends in an uphill finish in Plumelec. "I know that tomorrow is a possibility, but I don't know yet when, where and which card I'm going to play. This team is also aiming for the general classification, so I need to think about that as well," Cancellara explained.
Riis pointed out that he wasn't aiming for momentous glory in this year's Tour de France. "We're not going for the yellow jersey on stage four. If it would happen when Cancellara takes it for example, we'll be happy, but then we will focus back on the main job and that is to hold the yellow jersey in Paris."