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Saxo Bank’s Andy Schleck has played down the climbing threat of world champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) a day before the Tour de France heads into the Alps.
Schleck is considered the main challenger to two-time winner Alberto Contador (Astana) after he finished runner-up to the Spanish all-rounder in 2009, albeit over four minutes adrift.
Ahead of three days in the Alps from Saturday to Tuesday — Monday is a rest day — the climbing specialist is sixth overall at 30 seconds behind Evans, who has a 39-second deficit to race leader Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank).
Contador is ninth overall at 1:40 behind Cancellara and 1:01 behind Evans, while seven-time champion Lance Armstrong (Team RadioShack) is further off the pace at 2:30.
Schleck believes Armstrong will be one of the key players in the Alps, were Sunday’s stage is expected to witness the first big yellow-jersey battle.
But the 24-year-old Luxembourger believes he won’t have to worry about Evans, who has twice finished runner-up on the Tour.
“Not to discredit him, but I don’t see Evans sticking with the leaders (on the climbs),” Schleck said at the end of Thursday’s fifth stage, adding that he regarded Evans as “a bit of an outsider.”
“Maybe I will be proved wrong,” he said. “I think Lance will attack (in the Alps). And if the opportunity comes up, RadioShack will take it.”
Fans of Evans might beg to differ.
Evans overcame the handicap of having a weak team to finish runner-up in both 2007 and 2008, although the Australian had a disastrous campaign in 2009, finishing in 30th place.
But since then Evans has been virtually reborn. He finished third overall at the Vuelta a España in 2009, and weeks later carried that form to the world championships, where he made history by winning the men’s road race title.
He has been on superb form this season, winning the Fleche-Wallonne semi-classic ahead of Contador, and is racing the Tour after a solid fifth-place finish at the Giro d’Italia.
Now at BMC, where he has the support of Tour veteran American George Hincapie, among others, Evans’ 2010 Tour campaign looks rock solid.
But he, too, will be watching out for his rivals in the coming days, especially Armstrong.
“He’ll certainly move up on GC, that’s for sure. I’m interested to see how he and Alberto are climbing,” said Evans, who is hoping Armstrong’s RadioShack team makes some attacking moves.
“I wouldn’t mind if they did. It’s him that’s got to make up time because I’m happy to stay where I am for a while.”
The race will take a decisive turn in its third week, which features four tough stages in the Pyrenees. The climb to the summit of the Col du Tourmalet on stage 17 could virtually decide the yellow jersey.
Schleck believes that is when other “outsiders,” like Giro d’Italia champion Ivan Basso (Liquigas) or 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam), will come into their own.
“They will be there in the first week,” he said, “and they’ll be strong.”