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COL DU GALIBIER, France (VN) — For days, fans, media and the peloton have been openly criticizing and questioning how Leopard-Trek was racing the 2011 Tour de France.
Despite dominating the stages across the Pyrénées, the Schleck brothers were unable to finish off the work and put serious distance into their top GC rivals. Many suggested that maybe the Schlecks were not up to the task of winning the Tour.
Halfway up the legendary steeps of the Col d’Izoard, Andy Schleck uncorked a daring solo attack that not only caught their top rivals by surprise but quickly silenced the critics. With two teammates — Maxime Monfort and Joost Posthuma — waiting up the road in an early breakaway, Schleck powered to a solo victory at the Tour’s highest-ever summit and revived the team’s fortunes.
At the finish at the Col du Galibier summit, Leopard-Trek sport director Kim Andersen was pleased with the near-perfect day.
“We played the perfect tactic,” Andersen told VeloNews. “It was exactly how we set it up.”
Posthuma and Monfort gave Leopard-Trek the legs Schleck needed in the early breakaway. In the main GC group, Jens Voigt and Fabian Cancellara took early pulls on the Col de Agnel to soften up the bunch. Arch-rival Alberto Contador was soon left with just a few teammates by the time Schleck was ready to make his move. Andy surged away, many wondering if it was too soon, especially against gusting headwinds waiting on the long approach to the Galibier summit.
“It was a risk because there was a lot of wind. We said that we will try it anyway,” Andersen explained. “It was not the plan that Andy would go alone. We thought that Ivan (Basso) or somebody else could go with him, but the rest was all set up. We had two up the road — that was the plan.”
None of the top GC favorites dared follow. They were already on the rivet and the prospect of plowing against headwinds all the way to the Galibier summit seemed too daunting. Cadel Evans wasn’t going to chase, not with Frank Schleck marking his wheel. Alberto Contador was already struggling, taking a visit to the race doctor to complain about knee pain. Samuel Sanchez was not at his best and Thomas Voeckler knew it would take everything he had to get to the Galibier in yellow.
So, according to plan, Andy Schleck attacked. And it worked. By the time Evans took up the chase in earnest in the closing 10km, Schleck was gone.
“It was much better than we expected,” Andersen said. “Nobody can make any real difference. It was good for us. It was a risk to attack from so far, but we believe in Andy. We know he’s strong.”
With the stage victory, Schleck clawed within 15 seconds of the yellow jersey and distanced his GC rivals to put him in the pole position going into Friday’s short but explosive stage up Alpe d’Huez. With Evans lurking just 57 seconds back, Andersen knows there’s a lot of work to do on Friday. Andersen knows that Schleck will need more than that going into the Grenoble time trial if they want to have any chance of winning the Tour.
“We have to take more time. We have to see how the race is tomorrow,” he said. “Contador was dropped, so Evan is still the favorite.”
The stage victory is a boon for Leopard-Trek, cycling’s new super team that has received its fair of flak from critics and arm-chair quarterbacks.
The rest of the team was ecstatic with the victory. When Frank Schleck crossed the second, he rushed to embrace his younger brother. Both vow to ride for overall victory.
“It’s very big for the team,” Andersen said. “To do it like this and finish it off, it’s amazing. For sure if we had the yellow, it would be incredible, but everyone should be very proud.”