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By Justin Davis
CSC has promised a repeat of the collective power that virtually eliminated Caisse d’Epargne’s Alejandro Valverde from contention once the Tour de France hits the Alps this weekend.
But this time, it is Australian Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) and Denis Menchov (Rabobank) who will be in their sights.
Evans took the race lead by a second over CSC’s Frank Schleck after Monday’s thrilling day of racing in the high mountains of the Pyrenees.
But with three difficult days in the Alps, and a time trial on the penultimate stage to come, the battle is only just beginning for the 31-year-old Australian.
Evans, who suffered a heavy crash on Sunday, was left on his own for the final climb to Hautacam on Monday, when his teammates slowly dropped off the back as CSC set a furious pace.
The Danish outfit’s demonstration of power continued over the Col du Tourmalet, and on the descent into the valley that links the two unclassified monster climbs.
CSC manager Bjarne Riis believes that after a first week of conserving their energy – thanks to other teams taking possession of the yellow jersey – his riders have only just begun to show what they can do.
He has promised more of the same in the high Alps, beginning with next Sunday’s 15th stage – a 186km ride from Embrun to Prato Nevoso in Italy.
“Our Tour so far has been good. We spent the first week following wheels and that was what we wanted,” said Riis on Tuesday. “I believe it was our best tactic to save energy for the mountains.
“We saw yesterday that it’s in the mountains where you are going to see this team. I believe everyone could see how strong we actually are. Yesterday was a fantastic day for us, and we were able to apply the pressure when we wanted.
“Now we hope we can continue for the rest of the Tour, put that pressure on and take that second back that we need. We know it’s not going to be that easy, although we believe in ourselves. I’m sure when we reach the Alps I’m sure we’ll be the ones to beat again.”
Schleck, who won his first stage on the Tour de France two years ago on the climb to L’Alpe d’Huez, would be forgiven for targeting the race’s 17th stage to the legendary summit finish.
Although frustrated that he was unable to hand his team the yellow jersey on Monday, he is already looking ahead.
“It’s one really ridiculous second you could say. But it’s just the way it is,” said Schleck, whose accelerations on the 14.4km climb to Hautacam dropped his younger brother and teammate Andy out of contention.
“I’m disappointed, but in a way I’m happy, too. It would have been so nice to bring the yellow jersey back to the team after our demonstration of power. But we have to see the good side of it. I gained a lot of confidence.”
CSC’s official team leader is Carlos Sastre, who finished on the podium in Paris two years ago. He is not yet being ruled out of a repeat appearance, especially as he is only one minute and 28 seconds behind Evans in sixth place overall.
But with Rabobank team leader Denis Menchov, a two-time Vuelta a España winner, in fifth place at only 57 seconds behind Evans, Sastre believes it is the Russian they should be targeting.
“I think Denis Menchov is really strong,” said Sastre. “For me, honestly, he’s one that can make the big difference. Cadel is okay. Maybe yesterday he didn’t have his best day, but he managed to deal with our attacks. He’s good.”