Sastre on verge of Tour triumph
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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sastre on verge of Tour triumph

by Agence France-Presse at 12:34 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
Spaniard Carlos Sastre virtually wrapped up the Tour de France yellow jersey here Saturday after stunning victory favourite Cadel Evans in the penultimate stage time trial.

Germany's Stefan Schumacher claimed victory in the 53km race against the clock, his second of the race, beating Switzerland's two-time world champion Fabian Cancellara by 21secs.

The big battle, however, saw Evans fail to live up to the expectations of closing a 1min 34sec deficit to his Spanish rival on the deciding stage. Evans' formidable time trialling skills had many believing the Australian would overhaul his deficit and go one better than his runner-up place last year to Spaniard Alberto Contador.

But Sastre, known more for the climbing skills which allowed him to solo to victory atop the legendary Alpe d'Huez, produced the time trial of his life to tighten his grip ahead of Sunday's final stage to Paris.

While Sastre punched above his weight in an exercise which, in the past, has often left him over two minutes in Evans' wake, the Australian appeared to run out of juice at a crucial moment. Sastre finished 12th on the stage at 2:34 behind Schumacher, while Evans could only finish seventh at 2:05, meaning he only took 29secs off his Spanish rival over the 53km course.

Barring a major mishap on Sunday's final stage, Sastre will be Spain's third successive Tour de France champion after Contador last year and Oscar Pereiro in 2006. "I just tried to stay calm throughout the whole race," said Sastre, a 33-year-old from Madrid who has a third place finish from the race two years ago. "It was the chance of a lifetime and I knew I had to fight with every last drop."

Evans was the fourth last to start from the field, but after Sastre came past the first time check after 18km the writing already looked to be on the wall for the 31-year-old Australian. With just over a third of the course completed, he had managed to take only eight seconds off his Spanish rival. And he admitted to being as equally stunned when he heard some of the time splits from second placed Austrian Bernhard Kohl, the race's best climber who eventually finished just 16secs behind Evans. "I was relly surprised when I heard the first time check from Kohl, I thought I was doing good. I was in shock," said Evans. "There's three or four guys who did the time trial of their life. But what could I do? I gave it everything, and it wasn't enough."

Evans appeared to speed up over the second half of the rolling course between Cerilly and here, however Sastre dug deep and managed to retain most of his advantage. Silence team manager Marc Sergeant admitted he was surprised by the dominance of Sastre, who took the yellow jersey when he won the 17th stage climb to Alpe d'Huez. "We expected a really tight battle and it didn't turn out like that," said the Belgian, who seemed to apportion some of the blame to Evans. "I saw straight away that he wasn't at ease on the bike." At the end of the stage Evans was stunned to see his mother, Helen Cocks, who arrived from Australia on Saturday morning in the hope of seeing her son finish the day in yellow. But it was another surprise, from Sastre, that capped Evans' penultimate stage of the race.

Asked if he was devastated, Evans replied: "No, not devastated. Just disappointed. I felt like I rode a good time trial. "I had a good day, a good start - the first time check I got after six kilometres I was doing the same time as Cancellara, for me was a really really good indication."

Evans admitted he was surprised by Sastre's effort, but admitted he had been beaten throughout the race by the far stronger CSC team. "Sastre's ride in the time trial today was a real surprise." He added: "It comes down also to the fact they have two, two and a half times the budget we do, and straight away that can buy much better quality riders," added the Aussie, who for much of the race was left to fight for himself.

Sergeant knew Sastre's victorious climb to the Alpe d'Huez, which gave him his 1:34 lead on Evans, would leave them with a formidable task on Saturday. But the Belgian practically admitted that Evans had failed to deliver. "I expected better (from Evans). To win the Tour we would have had to finish in the top three in the time trial," added Sergeant, who felt Evans lacked the legs that allowed him to finish ahead of all of his yellow jersey rivals on the fourth stage time trial at Cholet. "If he had raced like he did at Cholet, he would have won the Tour. Today, Cadel just didn't have the legs."
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