Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) sent a warning to his rivals on stage of the Tour de France, with a superb win atop Morzine-Avoriaz. Last year’s Tour runner-up attacked within the final kilometre and out-sprinted Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) to the line. More importantly, he gained time on Alberto Contador (Astana) and sits just 20 seconds down on race leader Cadel Evans before tomorrow’s rest day.
“I really felt good. My legs were turning well, and the team was great. On the last climb I had no problem. I thought about attacking earlier but I have a plan for this Tour and I’m going to stick to it. Pressure motivates me. I’m here for a goal, to win in Paris, but if I can win a stage, I’ll take it,” he said at the finish.
"As well as my first stage win at the Tour de France, it's also my first real victory of the season. I wanted to attack on the climb. I was just waiting to see what the other riders' tactics were but I took a lot of confidence from my tactics today."
Schleck came into the Tour as Contador’s number one rival, despite a less than stellar start to his season. A less than impressive prologue in Rotterdam was followed by a strong ride on the cobbles in Arenberg but his performance today showed that he is close to, if not at, his top form.
“I don’t regret not attacking earlier,” he said. “We have a plan, and I’m going to follow it. I’m not going to experiment. I could maybe have taken yellow, but I want to take it in Paris. We need to go step-by-step. There will be stages for me to do more. For now, happy with stage win.”
Today stage saw Lance Armstrong eliminated from the yellow jersey race after the American lost over 11 minutes. Schleck immediately paid tribute to him in the press conference, telling reporters that the American could still win a stage in this year’s race.
“Lance had a really bad crash and he was just in front of me. After he came back he was pretty beaten up. And then on the second to last climb, he lost contact. I thought he could be with us up front but still, big respect for what he’s done this year. To be honest, I feel a bit sad for him, because I think his morale is pretty low tonight…although I still think he’ll get his stage win.”
With several tough days in the Pyrenees to come, Schleck is well aware that he’ll need to be ahead of both Cadel Evans and Alberto Contador before the all-important 52 kilometre time trial between Bordeaux and Pauillac.
“I can’t know how much time I need going into last time trial. If I want to win this Tour, I have to be in yellow on the start ramp. I know that under pressure I can go really fast. If I go in second position, I won’t beat Contador and Cadel. But maybe I don’t need as much time as you think. I won’t do another time trial like the prologue. I’ll do better than that.”
Saxo Bank boss Bjarne Riis was at the finish to congratulate Schleck on his win and the tactician knows that his young talent must take every opportunity before the time trial if he is to win his first Tour.
“I think Andy’s very good at the moment. Yesterday he wasn’t super. The heat made it difficult. Today was different. I saw straight away that Contador wasn’t good, that’s why I said he had to go. The bottom of the last climb was hard and it was still hard enough for Andy to win.”