Jurgen Van Den Broeck has called the remaining general classification contenders to form an alliance against the Tour de France's two dominant riders, yellow jersey wearer Bradley Wiggins and his teammate Chris Froome. With the last two mountain stages coming up in the Pyrenees this Wednesday and Thursday, the Lotto Belisol climber knows that his bid for the podium - or even the overall victory - needs a collective assault on Team Sky ahead of the race's final and decisive time trial this week-end - even if this cooperation is only temporary.
"I think the three of us [meaning Cadel Evans, Vincenzo Nibali and himself - ed.] need to work together, and not ride against each other, if we still want to fight for the yellow jersey," the Belgian stated at the team's press conference in Pau on the Tour's second rest day. "If their goal is position two and three, then it might be different, but if they still have the yellow in mind..."
He echoed the view of Liquigas' Nibali, who has also already expressed himself in favour of working with his podium rivals to destabilize Sky's supremacy. "Sky has two riders, and we should also be at least two to attack them," he continued. "Two against two is always stronger than two against one. In La Toussuire already, when I attacked, Nibali tried to come with me to go as fast as possible. Then they have to chase us..."
Van Den Broeck has been very satisfied with having reached the fifth overall placing prior to the Tour's last mountain stages. "I'm happy because this top five placing, at this stage in the race, was unexpected. I thought it was going to come now, in the next days, but having it today means that it can only get better - I hope!" he laughed.
Van Den Broeck hoped to create race situations where either race leader Wiggins or his superdomestique Froome would crack as the Tour heads into its final decisive mountain stages.
"It's going to be hard, but everything is possible. After the stage to La Toussuire, when I saw the TV images, I also saw that Wiggins had a meak moment, when Froome attacked. At the time, I didn't think he was dropped from our group, I thought he was still on our wheel but when I saw the images I saw he was almost standing still, so... there were some weak moments."
But the Lotto leader also stressed that anyone, including himself and especially in the third week of racing, can have a bad day and lose all hope for a significant overall placing. "At the moment, I feel strong - stronger than in 2008 and also stronger than at the start of the Tour - but we'll have to see. It's always possible that you go down suddenly, you never know. It's always scary to think of what could happen in the mountains, and how you feel. So [the key to still get onto the podium is] if someone cracks - then it's possible, but if we all are on the same level as before, then at least we tried. Who would have expected Evans to lose one and a half minutes on La Toussuire? But it happened," he noted, before giving his assessment of the two moutnain stages to come.
"Tomorrow [stage 16 on Wednesday] there won't be a lot of strategy. It's going to be hard from the start, straight uphill, and elimination in the end. There is no flat stretch. The day after [stage 17], it's going to be more difficult. The fight is going to start at Port de Balès, because it's a really technical descent and then it's straight up towards Peyresourde. It's going to be a key stage.
"I think Wiggins is not going to like the Port de Balès because it's quite irregular, and then you have this technical descent. It's not to his advantage, and then there's no recovery straight up to Peyresourde," Van Den Broeck alleged.
But the Belgian's bid for the Champs-Elysées podium also involves the final time trial into Chartres, an exercise in which both Evans and Nibali are superior to Van Den Broeck, who admitted that he might have to end his desired alliance at one point in order to gain an advantage. But he did not exclude any surprises, even if his abilities against the clock are limited.
"Before the time trial I have to try and be in front of them, which is already going to be hard as there are only two days to do it. Then, it's going to be more about freshness - you can be a time trial specialist but if you're totally dead, it's a long way..."