Tour de France’s overall favorites play it cagey on stage 7

"There will be a selection tomorrow," predicts Lance Armstrong.

The overall favorites didn’t reveal too much in the first taste of the mountains in the 2010 Tour de France.

Overnight leader Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) faded as even he predicted, while Geraint Thomas (Sky) also lost contact to drop from second place to 31st at 4:37 back. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) moved up to third, now 1:32 behind new race leader Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step).

Things are expected to be much more fluid in Sunday’s six-climb stage into the French Alps, with a first-category summit finish at Avoriaz.

“Today was harder than everyone expected,” said Lance Armstrong (RadioShack), who slotted into 14th after finishing safely with the GC group at 1:47 back. “Nobody showed themselves today. All of the favorites today just protected ourselves. It’s harder tomorrow. We’ll see who’s good. There will be a selection tomorrow.”

Several riders did lose time. Among the biggest names was Andreas Klöden (RadioShack), who forfeited four minutes and slipped to 35th on GC at 6:00 back. Other riders losing time in the Klöden group were John Gadret (Ag2r) and Vladymir Karpets (Katusha). Jakob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank) lost 12:59 while Cancellara gave up 14:12.

With Thomas sliding backwards on GC, Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) moved into the white jersey.

“It’s nice to be back in the white jersey, but I want to win the yellow jersey this year,” said Schleck, last year’s best young rider. “Tomorrow will be much harder than today. It was very hot again today and everyone was trying to keep hydrated. I think I drank 20 bottles of water.”

Most of the pre-race favorites finished in a group of 32 riders at 1:47 back. Among them was Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam), the winner of the 2008 Tour who said the stage was harder than it looked.

“It was a hard day, but I was able to overcome it without any problem and I am happy with the final result. This first mountain stage, or medium mountain stage, was hard. We went over leg-breaking terrain, with rough roads, with chunks of asphalt that got stuck to the tires. There was a lot of heat once again, so in that regard, the stage was difficult,” Sastre said.

“After the last two stages, with intense heat and very fast speeds, I believe people were starting to get tired today. I really saw that on the last climb, but the top favorites didn’t try anything, and the final climb was more or less steady.”

Defending champion Alberto Contador (Astana) saw his teammate and ace climber Jesus Hernández crash for the third time during this Tour. Contador was otherwise able to make it with the lead group without too much difficulty.

“The heat was overwhelming once again and I think we saw some people looking for the rhythm in the mountains,” he said. “We’ve gotten through the first week in pretty good shape. I hope the legs respond tomorrow at Avoriaz, though I don’t believe we’ll see too many differences among the top contenders.”

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