Rabobank director Erik Breukink believes that tomorrow’s stage from Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden will be the first major test for the riders battling for the yellow jersey and told Cyclingnews that if Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) does not attack then he will have missed a key opportunity to take time on his rivals.
The Spaniard lost time to his most dangerous rivals in this year’s opening stages and sits over 1:30 behind Cadel Evans and Andy and Frank Schleck.
"I think on the first mountains' days everyone will be curious to see who is strong, but Luz Ardiden will be a big finale because a guy like Contador, when he’s good, he will not hesitate because he needs the time. Then we’ll see what the differences are between the top riders. Tomorrow’s the first big test for these riders and how they’re climbing. It’s one of the days that will decide the Tour de France," Breukink told Cyclingnews.
"When a guy like Contador is feeling strong he has to gain time day-by-day, so if he doesn’t start tomorrow it’s a missed chance. If he doesn’t attack it’s a sign that he might not be that good."
Rabobank meanwhile heads into the Pyrenees in a precocious position with Luis Leon Sanchez in second spot on GC and Robert Gesink ahead of Contador by a matter of seconds. Sanchez has finished in the top ten in the Tour before and could conceivably slip into yellow by this time tomorrow.
Gesink’s stock has fallen since the start of the Tour after an early crash, and even though he leads the young riders classification there is no guarantee that he will be able to handle the pace after he struggled on the slopes of stage 9.
"We had some problems in the days after the crash but we’re not sure how it will go in the mountains," Breukink said.
"He feels better and he’s more confident so that’s a good sign. He struggled a lot but he’s a young guy and hopefully he can recover. He might have some difficulties in the first mountain stage but we think he can come good."
Sanchez came into the Tour without form and without a result after a difficult start to the season, but took stage 9 after slipping away in what was arguably the strongest break in this year’s race. After signing for the Dutch team during last year’s Tour he took longer than expected to find his feet in a new team, but looks to have turned the corner. With a question mark still over Gesink he could replace his younger teammate as the out-and-out leader.
"We’ll see how he’s going. It’s good to have him in front and if Gesink is good and Luis Leon is there that’s the idea situation. Normally Gesink is the better climber so Luis Leon will work for him but the race will decide if that changes."
"Luis Leon was already a protected riders because he’s an important rider for the key mountain stages," Breukink concluded, so either way it won't be a huge change for the team.