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Tour de France

Kim Kirchen and the Schleck brothers are all from Luxembourg …

The first skirmishes in the battle for the Tour de France yellow jersey left damage in their wake during the tumultuous seventh stage to here on Friday. But the biggest souvenir from the second day of climbing in the 'medium' mountain stages was the full exposure of the existing rivalry between three of Luxembourg's most talented bike riders. In one corner is Kim Kirchen, the Columbia team leader who has been wearing the yellow jersey since the end of Thursday's sixth stage.

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and the rivalry runs deep

By Justin Davis, Agence France Presse

The Luxumbourgers

The Luxumbourgers

Photo: Graham Watson

The first skirmishes in the battle for the Tour de France yellow jersey left damage in their wake during the tumultuous seventh stage to here on Friday.

But the biggest souvenir from the second day of climbing in the ‘medium’ mountain stages was the full exposure of the existing rivalry between three of Luxembourg’s most talented bike riders.

In one corner is Kim Kirchen, the Columbia team leader who has been wearing the yellow jersey since the end of Thursday’s sixth stage.

In the other stands Frank Schleck and his younger brother Andy, who have the official job of helping Spaniard Carlos Sastre, their team leader, win the race.

It’s the worst-kept secret in the peloton that the Schlecks and Kirchen are enemies. Their respective fathers are former Tour de France riders, and in Luxembourg there is said to exist two rival camps.

On the second day of climbing, that rivalry came to the fore in dramatic fashion.

After Columbia had spent energy chasing down Scotland’s David Millar, who began the day in fifth place at just 47 seconds behind Kirchen, CSC benefited from the crash of Italian Damiano Cunego, and some tough wind conditions, to force the pace.

Columbia was forced to battle, but in the end managed to keep the yellow jersey on the 30-year-old’s shoulders.

“It’s no secret that me and the Schleck brothers are not close and that it’s every man for himself,” said Kirchen, who will go into Saturday’s undulating stage with a six-second lead on Australia’s race favorite Cadel Evans.

“They (CSC) didn’t do us any favors out there today, and they made the race hard for us.”

CSC’s acceleration began shortly after Italian Damiano Cunego crashed at the 60km mark of the 159km stage, but despite putting a lot of teams in trouble a lack of help from, notably, Alejandro Valverde’s Caisse d’Epargne team stopped them from trying to distance Kirchen.

“If Caisse d’Epargne had worked with us, and two or three more (teams), we could have gone to the end and it would have been a nice finish,” said Andy Schleck, tipped as a future winner of the race.

“We wanted Caisse d’Epargne to go with us and they said ‘we’ll see’, ‘we’ll see’ and then it was too late, the pack caught us up.”

CSC team manager Bjarne Riis is normally known for dictating unforgiving tactics to his riders, and this time was no exception.

“Every team does what’s best for them. Everyone complains, but you have to respect that,” he said. “I follow my team, and the others do the same. Some days, other teams don’t understand us either. That’s how it goes.

“The stage was very hard today, there was a lot of wind and not one meter of flat. It was the right moment to attack, because it would hurt everybody.”

In the end, Kirchen kept the yellow jersey — and even defiantly sprinted ahead of his rivals towards the stage finish behind winner Leon Luis Sanchez.

Kirchen added: “The team tried to control the race and I think they more or less succeeded, although it was a tough day.

“We’re really happy to have the yellow jersey, and it’s down to my teammates that I have it for another day.

“Everyone in Luxembourg must be happy for me, although at CSC they’ll be feeling differently. They tried to make our team suffer today.”