LISIEUX, France (VN) — Sean Yates was celebrating on two fronts Thursday. On one side, Team Sky won its first-ever Tour de France stage victory with Edvald Boasson Hagen in Thursday’s rainy sixth stage. And on the GC front, Bradley Wiggins is picking his way through the first treacherous week of racing in very good position.
The British team is hoping to push Wiggins as far up the GC ladder as possible. After shaking off a spill in Wednesday’s stage, Wiggins made it through Thursday with the front group to remain sixth overall at 10 seconds back. Yates is also one of the most astute minds among the sport director corps. VeloNews caught up with Yates to break down the GC battle:
Q. Sean, how do things stack up with Team Sky through the opening stages of the Tour?
A. Things are going well. If we can keep things the way they are now by hitting the stage to Super-Besse, we’d be happy. We have Brad in a good position.There’s no pressure on Bradley right now.
Q. Contador losing time in the first stage was quite surprising, how do you see that changing the dynamics of the Tour?
A. He will have to regain that time, which means he will have to attack. Maybe Andy Schleck will not get dropped, but Alberto will have to try. Not at all the guys who gained time on him will get dropped in a natural selection, so he will have to attack often. It will shake things up a bit. The strategy will not be to follow Contador’s wheel and you make the podium in Paris. It cannot be, because he’s not in podium position now. If Andy is riding like he was last year, Contador’s got to drop him big-time. He cannot wait until the last TT, so that’s going to change the outlook of the race. Who is going to try to follow Alberto and who is not is the big question.
Q. Can you play that game by letting Contador go too early?
A. We are not going to chase him. Contador is going to attack at every chance he can get and take seconds back when he can. We already saw that Tuesday. He won’t be able to get it back at one fell swoop. He will have to chip away.
Q. And there are no time bonuses …
A. Exactly, so that makes it more complicated. Contador’s got no money in the bank so he needs to start investing. He needs to fill up his bank account again. And Andy needs to judge how he rides as well, so it’s going to make it pretty dicey.
Q. Wouldn’t logic say if you can stay with Contador when he attacks, you keep ahead of Contador and gain on everyone else who cannot follow?
A. As I said, you cannot try to go with someone like Alberto. Bradley Wiggins would blow himself up. When Alberto attacks, he normally goes solo, and the rest just hang on. That plays into our hands. When everyone realizes they cannot follow Contador, everyone else will ride to limit their losses. In a way, it’s better he has to regain this time, for our interests. The way Bradley rides, he’s real steady and he can ride at a good rhythm, and it won’t be up to us to chase.
Q. Does all the pressure now fall to BMC and Leopard-Trek?
A. There’s a lot more pressure on Cadel and the Schlecks, isn’t there? Andy has been talking himself up, saying he can drop Contador, this, that and the other. And now he has ‘dropped’ Contador, in effect, so Andy has that advantage. He’s talked the talk, now he has to walk the walk. There’s more pressure on Andy, less pressure on Alberto.
Q. So you see less pressure on Contador despite him being on the defensive?
A. In a way, yes. He won the Giro, he’s won the past six grand tours he’s started. Of course, he wants to win again, but Andy has never won a grand tour and now it’s theirs to lose for the Schlecks. When it’s yours to lose, there’s a lot more pressure.
Q. Who do think will win if Contador doesn’t make up the time?
A. Evans. Andy Schleck is a fantastic athlete, but I think I would not be out of place in saying that he is not as serious as he could be. He is not as serious as Cadel Evans. In my opinion, sooner or later, it catches up with you. This may be the year.
Q. What do you see?
A. I don’t want to go into detail, but from what I hear, he could be more serious.
Q. And Cadel is?
A. Yes, that’s why he’s been around so long. That’s why he’s there in every single race. Cadel is always there for the victory. And we are seeing a very strong Cadel Evans. When I saw him at the team presentation, I thought, ‘he is looking good. Really good.’
Q. As a sport director, as an ex-pro, you can measure up an athlete with one glance?
A. Yes, and when I saw him walking to that presentation in his shorts, I thought he’s strong enough to win the Tour. Cadel is a fantastic rider. Looking at his palmares, he’s got one hell of a results sheet. OK, he hasn’t won a grand tour, but he’s won some very big races. He’s a very serious bike rider.
Q. Contador has won two Tours by less than a minute, now he’s more than a minute and half behind his top rivals …
A. And one of those was behind Cadel Evans (23 seconds in 2007). You start doing the mathematics.
Q. Well, it should be an interesting three weeks …
A. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? It will certainly adds a little bit of spice