Astana will not try to lose the yellow jersey to a non-general classification rival says Lieuwe Westra. On stage two, his teammate Vincenzo Nibali took the lead of the Tour de France, after a beautifully timed attack to win stage 2 by two seconds.
If the Kazakh team were to hold the jersey until Paris they would have to defend it for 19 stages. Defending the jersey this early on could use up useful resources within the team, but Westra says they are not actively looking to pass it on.
"It will not be a problem if we lose it, but at the moment we will stay there and it is always good," he told Cyclingnews at the start of stage three.
The effect of the yellow jersey was already evident as Nibali’s teammates – including Westra – had to edge their way through throng of media and fans to reach their bikes.
Nibali’s form has been under a lot of scrutiny of late, with the Italian not bringing in the expected results in the build-up to the race. It was reported that he’d even received a letter from team manager Alexandre Vinokourov chastising him for his under-performing. However, things began to turn around for the 'shark of Messina' when he won the Italian national championships at the end of June. Westra has been impressed with the work his team leader has put in and says the yellow jersey is a boost for the whole team.
"It’s good for Astana, he’s in good shape," said Westra. "I’ve followed him now for a few months and I can see him, step by step, getting better. At the last training camp after Dauphiné, he was impressive in training. For me, it’s not a surprise because I think that he is a good man for the podium for the moment."
Stages three and four shouldn’t trouble the new yellow jersey and his team, but big challenges are imminent. On Wednesday the riders will face the cobbles, which is likely to be the toughest day for the general classification riders - outside of the mountains. Nibali has never raced the cobbles, nor have most of the team, but Westra has every confidence in him.
"We have a strong team and for him it won’t be a problem... Every team will be the same, we will try to stay together in the front. We did the stage in training and hopefully it will not be a bad day and we don’t lose time there," explained Westra. "For sure, for every team it will be stressful, especially if there is a little bit of rain on the day. We will see, but he is strong enough at the moment."
Westra was equally as confident about the team’s ability to match up to the likes of Team Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo in the mountains. "We have a very strong team," he said. "It will be very important in the mountains to have a good team, we have a few riders who can stay with him in the mountains and that is very important.
The Dutchman has had his own troubles early on in the race. On stage two, he took a tumble and landed hard on his side. Westra crossed the line 10:30 down on his teammate and stage winner.
"In the race I was a little bit scared, I was thinking that maybe it was broken. After the doctors felt it, it wasn’t broken. With a few easy days before the mountains, it will be ok."
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