The status quo was maintained among the favourites for Tour de France victory at Plateau de Beille on Saturday but in the immediate aftermath of the stage, Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) was critical of Fränk and Andy Schleck's reluctance to seize the initiative from further out on the final climb.
"I think that to make a difference, you shouldn't attack when there are still twenty riders in the group. You need to thin the group down to four or five," Basso said at the summit. "I think that if Andy and Fränk want to try and drop Cadel Evans and the others, they need to start their forcing earlier on the climbs, otherwise it will be difficult."
Although the Schlecks' Leopard Trek squad was prominent in leading the peloton over the Port de Lers and on the run-in to Plateau de Beille, their pace-setting relented on the early slopes of the final climb.
The Luxembourg duo launched a number of tentative attacks nearer the summit, while Basso himself also made a number of protracted efforts to try and snap the elastic. After changing in the back seat of his team car, a wrapped-up Basso emerged to explain to reporters that it had been nigh on impossible to escape from such a large yellow jersey group.
"I believe that the attacks that really hurt are the ones that come from a small group of riders. When you're in a group of 20 riders, the attacks don't make any difference," Basso lamented. "It's clear that to make the difference on these climbs you needed to make it hard from the bottom."
"For me to express myself to the best of my potential, I need to attack when there aren't many of us left. Today we didn't succeed in doing exactly what we wanted to."
Szmyd's off day
Bemused by the Leopard Trek tactics, Basso acknowledged that his Liquigas-Cannondale team had been unable to have the same impact on the final climb as it had done at Luz-Ardiden. With his trusted mountain gregario Sylvester Szmyd suffering from a rare off day, there was no repeat of the Polish-Italian tandem that whittled down the leading group on Thursday, and Basso was forced to alter his thinking accordingly.
"Today we had in mind to ride a certain kind of race, but unfortunately Sylvester wasn't on as good a day as normal," Basso said. "In an instant I had to change my plans at the beginning of the climb, and I had to attack in a moment that wasn't really ideal."
Last year Alberto Contador suffered during the opening mountain stages before coming to the fore in the third week, and the Spaniard again appeared short of his best on stage 14. Perhaps mindful of the lessons of 2010, Basso was frustrated by the lack of significant changes to the overall picture at Plateau de Beille. Nonetheless, he remains on course for his best Tour finish since before his suspension for his involvement with the blood doping clinic at the center of Operacion Puerto.
"It wasn't a 100 per cent positive day for me, so I'm not extremely happy," Basso said. "But it certainly wasn't a step backwards, we've stayed as we are."
One overall contender who did make gains on Saturday afternoon was Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi). Nobody chased down his attack in the finale and Liquigas manager Roberto Amadio noted that the overall contenders might live to regret their failure to mark Sanchez.
"Sanchez shouldn't be underrated, and I hope that the others don't underrate him either," Amadio warned.
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.