14 July 2008
BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE – No one would admit it after what proved to be a thrilling, but painful first day of climbing in the Pyrenees mountains on the Tour France.
But more than one team manager will watching for signs of weakness from leading yellow jersey contender Cadel Evans during Monday’s 10th stage over 156km from Pau to the race’s first summit finish at Hautacam.
Evans, the runner-up in 2007 to Spaniard Alberto Contador, an absentee this year, crashed heavily before the peloton hit any of the big climbs and got back on – albeit bruised and battered – to finish with all his big rivals.
The Australian was keen that no one touched him and came over the finish line flanked by his bodyguard and crying out, "Make sure nobody touches my left shoulder!"
When asked for his reaction to the incident, Evans gave his helmet – split open at the front left hand corner from his crash – to a waiting reporter.
"There’s your interview," he said.
The extent of his injuries has yet to be revealed, although Evans picked up scrapes and knocks on his elbow, thigh, shoulder and hip. And, given the state of his helmet, he was lucky to escape head injuries.
Silence-Lotto teammate Christophe Brandt was in front of Evans when he fell, and said he saw a bag caught in the Australian’s front wheel.
"He was in a bit of trouble, his head was not good. When you crash at this speed you can’t be good," said the Belgian.
"We tried to reassure him. Tomorrow is another day, I think it will be better."
A statement posted on the team’s website after the stage said: "Cadel crashed heavily. He is bruised from the head to the leg. His broken crash helmet shows how brutal the fall has been.
"Hopefully, Cadel will stand tomorrow’s ride to Hautacam, the following rest day will do him good."
In the end it could be the psychological damage of the crash which gives Evans’ rivals the edge on the 10th stage.
"I saw Evans crash, and I thing he hurt himself," said Andy Schleck of CSC.
Attacks are likely to come thick and fast, and the teams of yellow jersey contenders Carlos Sastre (CSC), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) and Denis Menchov (Rabobank) will all be looking to make up for lost time.
CSC team manager Bjarne Riis was coy about his team’s tactics, but he admitted he will be expecting fireworks from Sastre, and Luxembourg siblings Andy and Frank Schleck.
In theory the Dane might unleash Andy on a first foray to scare, and ultimately tire out Evans, race leader Kim Kirchen and Spanish contender Valverde.
Sastre could then emerge later in a bid to close his 1:34 deficit on Kirchen, and 1:28 gap to Evans.
"If that is not a stage for him (to attack), then I will be worried," said the Dane, who admitted they will have to be vigilant after ninth stage winner Riccardo Ricco of Italy closed his overnight deficit of 3:52 to Kirchen to 2:35.
"We have to be vigilant. If Ricco goes, then we will have to go with him."
Ricco appeared unstoppable when, after several attempts by other riders, he left the peloton in his wake on the 12.3km climb to the summit of the Col d’Aspin.
The Italian insists he is not aiming for the yellow jersey.
"My aim tomorrow is to help (teammate) Leonardo Piepoli win at Hautacam,"
said the brash, 24-year-old Italian.
Riis believes the yellow jersey rivals would not wait until the climb to Hautacam before launching their respective bids.
"Tomorrow, it will be the legs that make the difference and I don’t think everyone will wait until the Hautacam to attack," added the Dane.
"I don’t know about other teams, but we wanted to keep everbody for tomorrow. If we can isolate a few of our rivals then that will give us chances."
One of the few worries of Valverde, who crashed in midweek and is still riding with bandages down his left side, is not being able to scratch his itches.
The Caisse d’Epargne team leader came through the ninth stage unscathed, and said: "Now I know I have good legs, which is really important for the next stage."
Kirchen’s team manager at Columbia, Bob Stapleton, must be delighted they have held the yellow jersey so long, and grabbed two stage wins through sprinter Mark Cavendish.
But Stapleton admitted it will be a challenge to maintain the momentum.
"We are punching above our weight right now," said the American.
"We brought a team well suited to having success in the first week. We built a team to suit our athletes and that has turned out better than we could have hoped for."
[AFP / Expatica]