Riis on a high as CSC dominate Tour
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Riis on a high as CSC dominate Tour

by Agence France-Presse at 2:51 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
It couldn't have been a better day on the Tour de France for the Danish CSC team.

All they need now to finish this year's race in seventh heaven is for Australia's Cadel Evans to have an off-day on the penultimate stage time trial this Saturday.

On Wednesday's third and final alpine stage of what has been a thrilling yellow jersey battle CSC hammered home their dominance to leave Evans' victory hopes hinged, for the second year running, on the race's final time trial.

CSC started the 210 km stage from Embrun to here with a plan to attack Evans on the final, 13.3km climb to the Alpe d'Huez, and in the end it came through. Spaniard Carlos Sastre started the day 49secs adrift of overnight leader and teammate Frank Schleck but surged ahead to victory finishing 2:15 ahead of Evans to take the yellow jersey from Schleck.

Evans is now 1:34 behind Sastre and, as arguably the strongest time triallist from the race's top five, is still firmly in contention for an historic first yellow jersey.

CSC manager Bjarne Riis would not, however, be denied his moment of glory. Putting the threat of Evans to one side, the Dane - who admitted to using banned substances to secure his yellow jersey in 1996 - was over the moon. "We knew we had to attack to drop everyone. When Sastre attacked first at the bottom, he was really strong. Our plan came together perfectly and I'm proud of every one of my team," he said. "Whether Carlos wins on Saturday or not doesn't matter. He is already a champion."

Sastre claimed his maiden Tour stage win in 2003, but he had yet to wear the race's famed yellow jersey. "I'm going to be celebrating with my teammates. I have at least two days to enjoy being in yellow," said the Spaniard. "Without their help I wouldn't be in this position."

Evans and all the other big contenders were given a first taste of CSC's crushing pace on the way over the Col de la Croix de Fer. All of them survived, but another fast turn of pace on the way from the bottom of the Galibier descent to the start of the Alpe d'Huez was a sign of things to come.

Sastre, protected most of the day by sitting on the wheels of his team-mates, attacked just after the Alpe's 21 famous hairpin bends came upon his horizon and he went on to finish the race unchallenged. "I told Frank (Schleck) I was going because I had the legs and he said okay," added Sastre. "To me, everyone looked tired after trying to follow our pace in the Croix de Fer. "After that all I thought about was building my advantage. Both Andy and Frank sacrificed themselves for me, but that's what the whole philosophy of the team is about."

Frank Schleck might have lost the yellow jersey, however his sacrificing by Riis was logical as Sastre has a better chance of challenging Evans in the time trial on Saturday. The Luxembourg champion conceded that Sastre's 1:34 lead on Evans may not be enough to win them the Tour. But he added: "What we did today is just amazing. Hats off to all the guys. "I don't know if the advantage (over Evans) will be enough for us, but this morning we knew we had to go out and really make them suffer. "The end result is that Carlos has the yellow jersey, I'm in second place overall and (younger brother) Andy has the white jersey." Andy Schleck, who took the white jersey for the best placed rider 25 years old and under, is considered a future Tour contender. But for now, he wants to savour Sastre's win: "No one could follow Carlos today, he was just too strong for everybody. "I'm just here to learn, and gain experience. I'll come back and aim for a podium place on the Tour."
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