Kirchen throws hat in with yellow jersey bunch
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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Kirchen throws hat in with yellow jersey bunch

by Agence France-Presse at 9:09 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
Cadel Evans and Alejandro Valverde would normally be happy to wait for the Pyrenees stages this weekend before launching part two of their expected fight for the Tour de France yellow jersey.

However, the outcome of Tuesday's first real big test, a 29.5km time trial here which produced a surprise winner and shook up some of their fellow contenders, has given other ideas to Kim Kirchen.

Kirchen, who placed a respectable seventh place overall in 2007 when Evans finished runner-up by just 23secs, started the 2008 race declaring his intention to make life difficult for everyone.

And the confident Luxemburger proved true to his word with a superb performance in the race against the clock that has left him trailing new race leader Stefan Schumacher of Gerolsteiner by just 12secs.

The yellow jersey is now in sight for Kirchen, who, if his team manager Rolf Aldag is to be believed, will target Thursday's hilly sixth stage to initiate the next stage of his plan.

"We can now say that all the big favourites will consider Kim as a more credible favourite and I'm sure they're not going to forget about him in the stage to Super-Besse," Aldag told AFP.

"Kim is not the big favourite for the yellow jersey, but we'll be sticking to our focus of supporting him as much as much as we can. Stage six is the next big goal for him, and we'll see what we can deliver there."

Beginning on tight, twisting roads, the 195km race from Aigurande to Super-Besse leads the peloton up into the strength-sapping hills near the Massif Central.

Breakaways are a certainty, but Kirchen and his Columbia team - among others - are unlikely to allow them too much freedom on a stage which is perfectly suited to his style of riding, and which could be key to any future ambitions.

Kirchen, along with Valverde, is considered a 'puncher' who can do well on most hilly terrain. Their speciality is sprinting away from their rivals on the shorter climbs, especially those with steep gradients.

Thursday's finish line is at the end of a manageable 11km ascent, whose last 1.5km is at a tough gradient of 10 percent - incentive enough for the Luxemburger.

Evans knows Kirchen well, having been 'punched' into second place by him on the steep climb to the finish line of the Fleche Wallonne one-day classic earlier this spring.

But the experienced Australian, who has finished in the Tour's top ten three times in his past three participations, is also intelligent enough to know when to remain alert.

"In my mind, for the general classification this (time trial) has been the first appointment for the overall favourites," the Australian said after a strong time trial performance which allowed him to take 1min 07sec from Valverde.

"Like I say, so far so good. Let's see in Super-Besse. That will be the next big showing for the GC favourites." Evans showed Valverde he meant business Tuesday with a fourth place finish in the race against the clock, finishing 27secs behind Schumacher.

The 31-year-old Silence-Lotto rider is now fourth overall at 21secs behind the German, who will have to fight to hang on to the yellow jersey in the coming days.

While that battle beckons, another spanner could be thrown into the works by the objectives of Britain's David Millar, whose top five finish on Tuesday has left him in third overall at 12secs behind Schumacher.

The big Scot, who seems to have found a second wind in his career with the newly-renamed (ex-Slipstream) Garmin team, is not aiming for victory in Paris.

But the lure of the yellow jersey, which he last wore after winning the prologue in 2000, has given him ideas too. "Plan A was to try and get the yellow jersey here," he said after missing out on victory to Schumacher on Tyesday. "So we're going to have to resort to plan B now - rendez-vous at Super-Besse."

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