A week into the 2010 Tour de France, Johan Bruyneel admits that Lance Armstrong is entering the Alps at a disadvantage.
Armstrong’s ill-timed puncture in Tuesday’s cobblestone stage threw a wrench into RadioShack’s plans, so instead of being ahead of a horde of young, skinny climbers, Armstrong will have to be ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness among his rivals.
“The worst thing you can do now is to start to panic about a loss of 30 seconds or a minute. You have to figure out a way to get that time back,” Bruyneel said before Friday’s stage. “Sometimes there’s an opportunity you don’t expect. The first thing is to be there and always be ready.”
Bruyneel said RadioShack is not obsessing about what happened on the cobbles and is already trying to find a way to exploit openings among their most dangerous rivals. On-the-road alliances could form, and RadioShack could use its quiver of strong climbers to go on the attack and try to keep the other mountain men off balance.
“The time gap is 1:20 to Andy Schleck and 50 seconds to Contador – that’s not massive, but we sure would like to see it differently. It is what it is, what happened in stage 3, we cannot change it,” Bruyneel said. “The guys are all in one piece, that’s a good sign. Seconds or half minutes in the beginning of the Tour can become minutes in the mountains. I know that our team is very strong.”
Beginning Saturday, the Tour shifts from a week of tense, rolling stages into the mountains for the first of three climbing stages. Saturday enters the Jura Mountains along the French-Swiss border, but Bruyneel doesn’t expect too much action among the GC favorites.
Sunday’s summit arrival to Avoriaz and Tuesday’s more challenging climbing stage over the hors categorie Madeleine will see the real candidates for overall victory come to the forefront.
Bruyneel said the final week should decide everything. If RadioShack arrives to the Pyrénées with all options still in play, Bruyneel hinted that the team can produce attacks from riders such as Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden, which will force Astana and Saxo Bank to chase and possibly leave their leaders isolated in a key moment.
Bruyneel says whoever is strongest in the Pyrénées should roll out the winner, no matter what happens the previous two weeks.
“It won’t be easy. It’s difficult to take time back. I think this Tour, the last week is going to be a race for people who are not climbing specialists, but someone who is in good shape, can stay in good form for the three weeks,” he said.
“It will be elimination from the back and survive every day, that could be the guy who ends up in the front, I hope we have a few guys who can survive every day. If we have different guys up there, we can go against single guys on other teams, that can be an advantage to us.”