It was another day of stalemate among the overall contenders at the Tour de France, but BMC manager John Lelangue could scarcely hide his delight with the way stage 14 turned out for his leader Cadel Evans
The summit finish at Plateau de Beille saw a number of tentative attacks in the yellow jersey group, but only Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) succeeded in getting any purchase on his acceleration. In a tense finale, Evans was well able to cope with the pressing of Andy and Fränk Schleck (Leopard Trek) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale), and remains in third place, 2:01 off the overall lead.
"In our situation, we don't have problems," a smiling Lelangue told Cyclingnews after the finish. "We're in a situation where we can play defensively. We had to react to different attacks and reacted each time, whether it was to Fränk or to Andy or to Basso."
Although Sanchez succeeded in chipping another 25 seconds off his deficit to the other contenders with a clever attack near the top of the climb, Lelangue said that Evans's two-minute buffer over the Spaniard meant that he opted not to follow him.
"As for Samuel, we knew that we had a time gap of two minutes over him," Lelangue explained. "So for us, it was a quiet stage."
After the stage, Ivan Basso criticised the Schleck brothers for not trying to thin out the leading group by beginning their forcing from the foot of Plateau de Beille. Lelangue was reluctant to weigh in on any tactical polemic, however, pointing out that his sole focus was BMC.
"Every team manager is making the tactics that he wants," Lelangue said. "I'm not criticizing other teams. I make my strategy with my group to make the best Tour possible and that's the most important thing."
Even after three days in the Pyrenees, Alberto Contador's (Saxo Bank-SunGard) form remains an enigma. The Spaniard lost ground in the final kilometre of Luz-Ardiden on Thursday, but was able to come home in the same group as Evans at Plateau de Beille. Lelangue admitted that he could not tell if Contador's form was improving after a troubled start to the Tour.
"It's impossible to tell," he said. "The only one who can tell is Bjarne Riis. He is only one with the information who can tell what Alberto's real state is."
Without one outstanding favourite for Tour victory in 2011 as the race approaches its final week, Lelangue placed Evans in a group of five riders who he feels can still wear yellow in Paris.
"I think it's a group of the Schlecks, Contador, of course, and Basso; for me those are the main contenders," he said.
As well as three testing stages in the Alps, the final week features the Tour's sole individual time trial on the penultimate day. With a two-minute buffer over Contador, and a stronger time trialling pedigree than the Schlecks and Basso, Evans would be well-placed were the race to enter the final weekend with the overall picture as it is now.
However, Lelangue insisted that BMC were not already racing with the Grenoble test in mind.
"I don't think about the time trial," he said. "For now I'm just thinking about the stage to Montpellier tomorrow. Everything can change tomorrow."
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was remarkably comfortable in defending his yellow jersey on Plateau de Beille, but rather than worrying about the Frenchman as an overall contender, Lelangue was pleased that Europcar were shouldering the responsibility of controlling the race.
"He has a really good team and good teammates," Lelangue said. "For us it's a really good situation, it's perfect."
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