Spaniard credits "my mind, my team, my form"
Spaniard Carlos Sastre held up under the pressure that the 53 kilometre time trial would win or lose the Tour de France, and held off the challenge of Cadel Evans to hold his yellow jersey by 1'05". The CSC-Saxo Bank rider put in one of the best time trial performances of his career, even catching team-mate Fränk Schleck, who started three minutes ahead, within the final five kilometres.
Evans, on the other hand, never gained the kind of time he would need to make up the 1'34" deficit to Sastre. While he inched ahead at each time check, it was clear that he wasn't having a great day and would not be winning the Tour. In fact, Evans struggled at the first time check to hold the pace of Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), and was four seconds behind the Austrian, but was able to pull out the single second he needed to move up into second overall by the finish.
Kohl, in the polka dot jersey of best climber, rode a solid time trial to hold onto the final podium placing heading into the parade into Paris. The Gerolsteiner rider finished in ninth, and kept a 40 second lead over Rabobank's Denis Menchov in the general classification.
Sastre had the upper hand coming into the time trial with the yellow jersey already in his grasp, and he arrived there with the help of the Tour's strongest team. Of course, the 'race of truth' separates a man from his team and is a true test of will - of mind over pain - and Sastre may have taken lessons from his team-mate Jens Voigt in telling his legs to just shut up and do what he says.
"When I started today I wanted to do a good time trial but if I was able to defend my yellow jersey today it was because of three factors: my mind, my team, my form," the Spaniard explained.
"I suffered a lot in this time trial because it was essential that I rode a bloc [flat out]," said Sastre. "I went a little bit slower in the final five kilometers." But over that mainly downhill distance, Sastre knew his jersey was secure. "Ultimately, I am grateful because I knew that I was going to keep the yellow jersey. It was very difficult to retain it but still I managed to do it. Now I'm happy because I have a guarantee that it will all end well tomorrow."
With team manager Bjarne Riis removing pressure from his rider by declaring that no matter what happened, the team's Tour was a success, Sastre was able to sleep well and start the day relaxed. "I was calm. I slept for hours," Sastre said. "It was the chance of my life. My wife and kids are here. Now I want to spend some time with my family, as I missed them. It is a dream come true and I want to share it with them."
After nearly three weeks of racing, Sastre was able to benefit from having a strong team which allowed him to use less energy throughout the race. "Winning the Tour de France is a dream come true. Above all, it's a special day for the whole CSC-Saxo Bank team. It was impossible to do this without them. It is extremely motivating to know that all the riders were ready to be at my service."
"I've prepared better than ever for this race. I arrived at the Tour in the best shape of my career and what has happened is really a dream for every professional," said Sastre."I felt better and better as the race went on," the Spaniard said of his Tour. "Also, I recover well. The team really sacrificed itself. The Schleck brothers sacrificed their own chances."
Riis agreed that Sastre was fresher than the other GC challengers in the final week. "It is well known that Carlos goes better in the third week. He may not do as much as others the rest of the year. But I saw him going well here. He showed that he was the strongest in the mountains," said Riis. Many of the CSC riders on with the team are at the end of their contracts, including Sastre. "I hope he will stay with the team. I will do everything to keep him," said Riis.
Evans 'not devastated'
Evans said he was not devastated after missing out on a Tour victory for the second consecutive year, but he was disappointed. "I felt I rode a good time trial. I started well and got a time check from my car after six kilometres and I was similar to Cancellara. For me that is a good start... I tried my best but didn't quite deliver in the end.
"I need some time to have a little look and analysis of the time checks. But, you know, first I've got to be happy that I finished the race. I'm still a bit sore and aching in places. After that crash I was lucky to be able to finish the stage."
The Australian expressed his disappointment that his team, once more, was not there at his side when he needed them. "I would have liked some more support in the high mountains. At least one team member to ride with me and help at the tough end of a climbing stage," he said. "I would also have expected a bit more help from some other key riders when the pressure was on in the big climbs."
He was able to take some positives away from this year's race as he looked forward to the Olympic Games next month. "When I look back, I have to be happy with my Tour. To get the yellow jersey and defend it against the best, well I have to be pleased with that."
Evan's team manager Marc Sergeant looked to the future for another chance for his team to take a Tour victory. "The team thought it would be a tight battle. I think he didn't have the legs today. It was win or lose today," Sergeant said.
The Silence-Lotto team has received criticism for not being strong enough to support its Tour contender. Evans was isolated against the attacks of Team CSC-Saxo Bank, despite the hiring of Yaroslav Popovych to be his mountain domestique, but Sergeant hoped to change that if Evans returns with the team next season. "We will try to strengthen the team for next year. Popovych was supposed to be there, but he didn't go as well as we had hoped."
Successful Tour for Gerolsteiner
The surprise performances of the day came from German Stefan Schumacher and Christian Vande Velde. Schumacher took home his second stage win against the clock of this year's Tour after the stage four test in Cholet. The Gerolsteiner rider beat world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara by 21 seconds. Vande Velde was the best of the GC contenders, coming fourth behind Team Columbia's Kim Kirchen.
Schumacher amazed even himself by taking his second stage win, and said that he began to feel better as the Tour went along, and was surprised at how good he felt after three weeks of racing. "In the final, after such a long time trial, you find yourself being cross-eyed from the effort. I didn't know anything about my time when I hit the finish line so I had to ask, 'Which place?' And I heard first and as I'd already beaten the time of [Fabian] Cancellara I knew I had a good chance to win," said Schumacher.
"I am happy with myself. I had a good rhythm today and when we saw the circuit I knew it would be perfect for me - it was nearly the same type of circuit as Cholet.
"I never even thought I was going to win. It wasn't even in my mind. I only tried to find my rhythm and give it 100 percent," he added, revealing that he did most of the race without any feedback from his team. "After 25 kilometres my radio was no longer working – I don't know what happened, perhaps I hit the wrong button but I didn't hear anything – but I had the time at the second check and I still wasn't sure if it was enough to win the stage."
Like most of the riders, Schumacher was focused on the gradual climb which ended with five kilometres to go as the critical point on the course. "I was sure that the last climb on the course would decide the winner. I was feeling heavy after 45 kilometres, and to arrive at the last climb which is more than one kilometre long like that was hard but I had the power to go over the top," he said. "In the last 10 kilometres I had a good ride and that was very important for me.
The two stage wins and Bernhard Kohl's polka dot jersey made for an unexpectedly successful Tour de France, and even Schumacher was incredulous at how it turned out for the team. "I don't think anybody outside of the team thought that we could do a Tour like this so it's unreal. I've been talking a lot with Bernhard [Kohl] and we're always saying, 'Hey, this isn't just any bike race. It's the Tour!' And I cannot believe what we've done. He said that he'd be happy with fifth and now he's third and the King of the Mountains... so it's been an incredible adventure."
Team manager Hans-Michael Holczer was equally amazed. "I did not think it was possible. I thought, 'ok, this is the price he has to pay for his really aggressive riding in the last three stages,' but in the end, in the last 12 kilometres he found an unbelievable rhythm."
Schleck in white again
In the race for the best young rider, Andy Schleck provided another good result for Team CSC-Saxo Bank by holding off a strong challenge from Liquigas' Roman Kreuziger. Schleck lost 36 seconds to the Czech rider, but had enough time thanks to his ride on L'Alpe d'Huez to take home the white jersey.
The Luxembourger, who last year took second in the Giro d'Italia and the best young rider classification, has been tipped as a future winner of the Tour. But after having a terrible day on stage ten, he fell out of contention and into the service of his team. But Schleck doesn't regret sacrificing his chances to work for brother Fränk and Sastre. "I was here to learn. I didn't think I would be going that well in the Alps," he said.
The emotions which have built up during the Tour came to a head at the end of the time trial, and Schleck admitted he was so happy at the finish that he "almost cried for Carlos".
As for his future prospects, the younger Schleck has vowed to return to try to win the Tour. "I am honoured that a great champion like Laurent Jalabert thinks I can win the Tour. I may have the means to do it, but it requires a lot of work."
"I simply bonked at Hautacam. I am only 23 years old, I don't have the experience. But maybe everything happens for a reason..."
Schleck will get to test out the view from the podium when he steps up with the rest of CSC-Saxo Bank to receive the prize for best team. "It is pretty big. I am going to be standing on the Champs Élysées, on the podium, it is pretty big," said Schleck. "It is fantastic that Sastre will also take the yellow jersey."
How it unfolded
There was some worry about the overnight rains, but the weather cleared in the morning and the sun came out for the favourites, and the roads were dry. The first rider to set off was Bernhard Eisel (Columbia). Eisel scored an important 'victory' over Wim Vansevenant (Silence-Lotto) in the Lanterne rouge competition by losing 15 minutes yesterday.
Eisel set off at 11:18. He ended 9'21 down on the winner, while the experienced Wim Vansevenant (Silence-Lotto) started after Eisel and had all the time checks. He finished the day almost 11 minutes down and dropped back to last, set to clinch the title of last placed rider for the third time.
Danny Pate started what would be a strong day for the Garmin-Chipotle team, setting a 1h06'44. Ryder Hesjedal would edge him out of 13th place on the day, putting the team second on the stage.
Exactly one hour after Pate, Fabian Cancellara (CSC-Saxo Bank) took the start. He quickly showed off his ambitions, being the first one to average more than 50km/h at the first check (km 18). Cancellara rode home with the best time, 1h04'12. His average had dropped below 50km/h by the end thanks to a gradual rise in the final 20 kilometres, but he was over two minutes faster than previous best time Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner).
David Millar (Garmin Chipotle - H30) was a good minute adrift of the world champion at 1h05'27, but his time would stand up for fifth on the day.
Stage 19 winner and French time trial champion Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) rode a strong first leg, but faded to 19th overall in the difficult second half of the course. George Hincapie (Columbia) put in a solid effort despite being bandaged up from a crash in the previous days, and slotted into the top ten with a 1h06'19.
Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) set off at 15:19 to try for his second stage win of the Tour. Despite using up quite a bit of energy on breakaway attempts in the Alps and on Friday's stage, he equalled Cancellara's time on the first check. The German faded back to 12 seconds behind the Swiss rider on the second check, but then clawed his way back into the race. At kilometre 47.5, Schumacher was again ahead of Cancellara by 14 seconds, and then came home with a new best time of 1h03'50 – 21 seconds faster than Cancellara.
The battle for the white jersey of best young rider provided some entertainment as the fans awaited the arrival of the yellow jersey contenders. Roman Kreuziger was seeking to put 1'58" into Andy Schleck, and while the Luxembourger started out well, Kreuziger really put the hammer down. At check two, he was 1'03 faster and looked to trouble Schleck. In the end, however, Schleck recovered and saved the day with a 1h07'52, only 39 seconds behind Kreuziger.
Denis Menchov (Rabobank) kicked off battle of the GC contenders, and put in a storming first time check. The Russian was third fastest over the 18 kilometre mark, just 22 seconds slower than Cancellara and Schumacher. Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) was threatened at that check by Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), who was four seconds faster. Meanwhile, Fränk Schleck (CSC-Saxo Bank) could only manage a 22'57, and his podium dream slipped away rapidly.
All eyes were on yellow jersey of Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank), who put in a courageous ride. He had lost only eight seconds to Evans after 18 kilometres, and with a 1'34 lead over the Australian on the general classification, his hopes of winning the Tour began to rise.
Menchov wasn't able to keep up his momentum over the middle section, and faded to sixth at the second check with a 43'46. Kim Kirchen (Columbia) made up lost ground and posted a 43'35. Christian Vande Velde (Garmin Chipotle - H30) was only one second slower at this point.
The race for the podium was still tight at the second check. While Kohl hung tough, coming by in 44'11, Evans had only made up three seconds, which left him only two seconds ahead of the Austrian in GC. It became clear that Sastre was on a brilliant ride, and the Spaniard came in just 23 seconds slower than Evans after 36 kilometres. Fränk Schleck was out of the picture (46'27).
With the third check just 5.5 kilometres from the finish, the winner of the day and the Tour would be revealed well before the line. Denis Menchov was the sixth and last rider to break the one-hour barrier (59'50). Kirchen posted a 59'08, Vande Velde a 59'18 - none of them coming within a minute of Schumacher.
Evans was the next, across the line and would see his dreams of yellow vanishing as he ceded three seconds to his Spanish rival. On the bright side, he had managed to pull 15 seconds ahead of Kohl, so at least a spot on the podium was still in sight.
Sastre took the tight turns in the final kilometres carefully, and was able to take a moment to celebrate his achievement with a sign of the cross and a modest pump of the fist at the line, just 29 seconds slower than Evans.