Schleck takes yellow jersey in Tour de France
Vail, CO Colorado
PRATO NEVOSO, Italy ” The Tour de France still has no definitive leader through 15 stages. One trend is quite clear, though: Team CSC is the strongest squad.
Bjarne Riis’ riders continually attacked race favorite Cadel Evans as the Tour hit the Alps on Sunday, and CSC’s Frank Schleck took the overall leader’s yellow jersey from Evans.
“We decide the race ” or at least make it hard and put the pressure on, because we have the strongest team,” said Riis, CSC’s sporting director and the 1996 Tour winner. “The team is strong and we’re following our plan. We did what we wanted today. All of our riders know what it means to be a team.”
Schleck now holds a 7-second lead over Bernhard Kohl of the Gerolsteiner team in the overall standings, with Evans 1 second further back in third position.
On the uphill finish to Prato Nevoso that concluded stage 15, Schleck and his younger brother, Andy, along with another CSC climbing specialist ” Carlos Sastre of Spain ” exposed Evans’ biggest problem: a lack of support riders in the mountains.
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“(Riis) has the strongest team here, three very good climbers. That is what we expected,” said Rabobank sporting director Erik Breukink.
Rabobank’s Denis Menchov also moved up in the overall standings, from fifth to fourth, 38 seconds behind Frank Schleck, although the Russian could have done more damage had he not fallen on the slippery final climb.
Simon Gerrans, an Australian with the Credit Agricole team, won the stage after leaving the other components of a four-man breakaway behind on the final climb, as the race returned to Italy after a nine-year absence.
The Tour will remain in Italy for its second rest day on Monday, then restart Tuesday with a 97-mile stage from Cuneo to Jausiers, crossing back into France with two more major ” and lengthy ” climbs: the 13.3-mile Lombarde pass and the 15.8-mile Bonette-Restefond summit.
Then it’s the toughest day of climbing of this year’s race ” Wednesday’s wicked 130.8-mile ride along three “beyond category” ascents, up the Galibier and Croix de Fer passes and a finish on the famed Alpe d’Huez.
“I think they have to attack now in the next two stages,” Gerolsteiner team director Christian Henn said of CSC. “They have the strongest team with Sastre and the two Schlecks.”
For most of Evans’ rivals, the strategy is to gain a big enough lead on the Australian before the final individual time trial of 32.8 miles in the penultimate stage Saturday.
While he’s only 7 seconds from the yellow jersey, Kohl would be content with a top-five finish at this point.
“The last time trial is very long and he is not so good (at time trials),” Henn said.
The two other riders still contending for overall victory are Christian Vande Velde, an American placed fifth, 39 seconds behind, and Sastre, who is sixth and trails by 49 seconds.
“All the favorites are bunched together, and Cadel’s within 10 seconds of the lead. It’s good for him and it’s good for the Tour,” said Hendrik Redant, the director of Evans’ Silence-Lotto team.
“I wouldn’t call it too difficult a day for us,” Redant added. “It wasn’t a surprise that there were a lot of attacks. That’s normal for a summit finish. We’re not in Paris yet, we’re only in Prato Nevoso. I don’t think Cadel was struggling too much.”
But Evans had no response when Frank Schleck pulled away from him in the final 500 meters.
“You see he’s weak and I think that’s important,” Riis said. “He has a lot of work to do but he’s still the man to beat, even though we have the jersey now.”
AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.