Evans keeps a cool head as peloton explodes
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Friday, July 11, 2008

Evans keeps a cool head as peloton explodes

by Agence France-Presse at 7:00 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
There's a golden rule in cycling which is usually respected. When the yellow jersey wearer needs a loo stop, the peloton usually slows down considerably to let him catch up.

On Friday's second day of climbing, that rule was consigned to nostalgia as the CSC and Columbia team launched the first skirmishes in the battle for the yellow jersey.

In the end, it proved to be a phoney war. Luxembourg's Kim Kirchen recovered from his rather hurried stop to go on and retain his six-second lead over Cadel Evans, the Australian among those who nevertheless felt the effects of a fast and tactical day of bike racing. "There was a lot of action, a lot more than everyone expected," said Evans, who managed to stay up the front with teammate Dario Cioni after a rapid acceleration by the ambitious CSC team after 60km. "I thought it would have been a little bit more of a relaxing day but you saw from the crosswinds and the splits everywhere that it never let up all day. "No one stopped to have a pee ... and you wouldn't dare to either. That's the way the Tour is."

After Kirchen's capture of the yellow jersey on Thursday's seventh stage, the first skirmishes in the battle for the race lead left damage in their wake.

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 Kirchen, the Columbia team leader. 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.

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

Columbia were 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. "They (CSC) didn't do us any favours out there today, and they made the race hard for us."

Despite putting a lot of teams in trouble, a lack of help from, notably, Alejandro Valverde's Caisse d'Epargne team stopped CSC 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."

A vigilant Evans managed to stay with the frontrunners all day, and at the end of the stage finish six seconds behind Valverde's stage-winning teammate Luis Leon Sanchez among a group of 22 riders containing all the favourites. "I was in front of the split, fortunately, but CSC had all the numbers there to ride," added Evans, whose biggest challenger over the two Pyrenean stages beginning Sunday is likely to be Valverde, who is 1:06 behind him. "For whatever reason it didn't happen, some of the other teams didn't want to cooperate or whatever. But good to be there, good to be in front otherwise it could have been Tour nearly over."

In the end, Kirchen kept the yellow jersey - and even defiantly sprinted ahead of his rivals towards the stage finish behind Sanchez. Kirchen added: "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."

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