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Tour de France

Frank Schleck says he’s happy to see Kirchen in yellow

CSC-Saxo Bank’s national Luxembourg champion Frank Schleck dismissed statements made by race leader Kim Kirchen Friday that there was no love lost between the compatriots. Following Friday’s difficult stage, which saw the CSC team of brothers Frank and Andy Schleck set a high tempo that nearly shattered Kirchen’s Columbia team, the race leader insinuated that the tactic had, at least in part, intended to shed the first Luxembourgian maillot jaune in 50 years.

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By Neal Rogers

CSC-Saxo Bank’s national Luxembourg champion Frank Schleck dismissed statements made by race leader Kim Kirchen Friday that there was no love lost between the compatriots.

Following Friday’s difficult stage, which saw the CSC team of brothers Frank and Andy Schleck set a high tempo that nearly shattered Kirchen’s Columbia team, the race leader insinuated that the tactic had, at least in part, intended to shed the first Luxembourgian maillot jaune in 50 years.

“It’s no secret that me and the Schleck brothers are not close and that ?it’s every man for himself,” Kirchen said. “CSC didn’t do us any favors out there today. Everyone in Luxembourg must be happy for me, although at CSC they’ll be ?feeling differently. They tried to make our team suffer.”

Kirchen’s comments stirred up more controversy in a GC battle that already saw the 30-year-old from Luxembourg take the yellow jersey after his rear wheel errantly swept out the front wheel of former maillot jaune Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) on stage 6, bringing Schumacher to the ground in the final kilometer to Super-Besse. Schumacher expressed deep frustration following the incident, while Kirchen was somewhat aloof, saying he hadn’t seen Schumacher in the final two kilometers.

Following Friday’s stage — a day Columbia’s George Hincapie called one of the hardest of his 13 Tours — Agence France Presse reported that the Schlecks and Kirchen are “enemies” is the “worst-kept secret in the peloton,” adding that their respective fathers are former Tour de France riders and in ?Luxembourg there is said to “exist two rival camps.”

Kirchen is the five-time elected sportsman of the year of Luxembourg. He began racing in 1992 and was signed to Fassa Bortolo from 2001 to 2005 before joining T-Mobile in 2006.

Kirchen and the Schleck brothers are similar types of riders, excelling in the punchy one-day Ardennes classics. Frank Schleck won the Amstel Gold Race in 2006 and has finished on the podium at Liege-Bastogne-Liege the past two years. Kirchen, the 2006 national Luxembourg champion, won this year’s Fleche Wallone semi-classic and finished second in 2005.

However Frank Schleck said he was surprised and saddened to hear of Kirchen’s comments.

“I am actually really, really disappointed that he said that,” Schleck said. “Kim, he is my friend. I was really happy to see Luxembourg take the yellow jersey. I don’t get his point. There is no reason to get paranoid. There are like 150 riders in the peloton who want to take his yellow jersey, and I will be loyal to my team. There are other riders who have been training hard to get his yellow jersey. What is he expecting us to do? CSC cannot pass him any more on the finish lines? Should we always say behind him? I was really happy for him. I am still happy for Luxembourg that he has the yellow jersey.”