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By Andrew Hood
There is a Spanish civil war erupting between Team CSC and Caisse d’Epargne as each side is pointing the finger at the other for allowing Floyd Landis to ride back into the Tour de France in Thursday’s epic solo attack.
As Landis lines up Saturday as the heavy favorite to erase a 30-second gap to race leader Oscar Pereiro, Spanish pundits are looking for someone to blame for what’s viewed as a blown opportunity to win its first Tour since Miguel Indurain last won in 1995.
“We let the Tour slip right through our hands,” Pereiro said. “Now Landis is right back in it and he’s the favorite to win.”
After clawing his way from 11th at more than eight minutes back to third at just 30 seconds back, Landis is poised to knock both Pereiro and Sastre down a notch or two on the Tour podium.
If the differences to Landis could have been controlled Thursday, Pereiro or Sastre could have been in the pole position to win the Tour for Spain. Instead, with the American so close, both realize that their chances to claim the maillot jaune are greatly handicapped in Saturday’s 57km TT.
“What Landis did was incredible,” Sastre said. “No one expected him to be able to stay away with so much for so long like he did. He turned the Tour upside down.”
Pereiro said Team CSC refused to work early to try to limit the damage to Landis when the American tore off the front of the main pack at the Col des Saisies.
“CSC wasn’t taking pulls over the early climbs,” Pereiro said. “When I saw the others not working, I told my boys to sit up because if they had carried the weight of the chase by themselves, I would have blown up my team.”
Pereiro gamely fought through the stage to conserve his yellow jersey against Sastre going into Saturday’s TT, but even he doesn’t expect he can hold off Landis with just 30 seconds head start.
Sastre shot back, insisting his team did everything it could to try to bring back Landis, but he made the decision to save his troops for the final chase coming off the Col de la Colombiere with 66km to go.
“We didn’t have the team to make the chase over the mountains,” said Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis. “That’s why we drove the chase off the Colombiere. There others weren’t collaborating either. We would have expected T-Mobile to take more responsibility.”
When the main bunch hit the base of the Joux-Plane, the difference to Landis was 6:18 to the yellow jersey group at 22km to go. At the summit, that margin decreased it to 5:08 to the chasing Sastre and actually increased to 6:52 to Pereiro, a testament to Landis’s strength.
Time bonuses and Landis’ excellent descending skills shaved the differences to where they stood going into Saturday.