Andy Schleck: “A finish like this should not be allowed.”
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Andy Schleck: “A finish like this should not be allowed.”

by Ben Atkins at 5:41 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
Leopard Trek rider angry over final descent into Gap finish; lead over Contador cut to ironic 39 seconds

Andy SchleckThe big loser on today’s transitional stage between Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux was Leopard Trek team leader Andy Schleck. The Luxembourg rider, who came into the race as joint overall favourite along with Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard), lost 1’06” to the Spanish rider on the final climb and descent of the Col de Mande.

“It was a dangerous finish,” Schleck told the TV cameras soon after the stage finish. “It was not a super climb, I did not feel super, when [Contador] attacked and I did a bad downhill.

“Somebody in front of me slid on the first corner and I had to clip a pedal out and had a gap of 150 metres,” he explained. “I couldn’t close it to the bottom so… but there’s other days to come.”

The time lost to Contador – as well as Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) – means that, while the younger Schleck brother keeps his position in third place in the overall standings, he now trails yellow jersey Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) by 3’03”, Evans by 1’18” and elder brother Fränk by 1’14”.

Ironically, his lead over Contador is now just 39 seconds, the margin that the Spaniard beat him by in last year’s race.

“I think it doesn’t mean anything,” he said defiantly. “I’m positive, my shape is good and I’ve showed it; I’m going to show it again. So, I’ll keep my head up for the next stages.”

While the loss of time is a disappointment, Schleck’s primary feeling is one of anger, over what he considered a dangerous finish to the stage.

“I’m pretty disappointed but more in… is this really what people want to see?” he asked. “Actually a race decided in a downhill? I don’t know. I think the parcours is a really bad choice today; we don’t want to see riders crashing, or riders taking risks. Everybody has family at home and a finish like this should not be allowed.”

But how dangerous was that descent?

The descent of the Col de Mande into Gap was the scene of one of the most famous images of the Lance Armstrong era. Spanish challenger Joseba Beloki crashed on a right hand bend as his tubular tyre was stripped from his wheel by the molten tar on the road surface, and he broke his femur. To avoid Beloki, Armstrong swerved of the road, crossed the field, before jumping over a ditch and remounting on the road below.

It should be remembered though, that the descent was also used in last year’s race, with the stage won by Sergio Paulinho (RadioShack), and there were no reported incidents. In today’s stage, despite the descent being tackled in heavy rain, there was only one visible crash, when Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ) came down on the inside of a hairpin bend, and he remounted immediately and finished with the Voeckler group.

While also disappointed, Leopard Trek general manager Brian Nygaard was a little more measured as he spoke to Sporza soon afterwards.

“We expected that there would be some action on that last part of the climb, and there was, but it was not really the climb today that made the difference,” he said. “To me it was the super-technical descent and the difficult conditions to race on, and the guys out front just went down fast and the gap opened up quite quickly.”

Like Schleck though, he is confident that the team will be able to claw back the minute lost on the stages ahead.

“It’s time that we have to go out and find in the Alps now,” he said. “One minute is not an ocean, but it’s definitely time that we have to go out and find in the next couple of stages.”

For Nygaard too, the reasons for the lost time were clear: while Contador revels in such poor conditions, Andy Schleck does not.

“I think he struggled a lot under the conditions and the descent is not his favourite discipline,” Nygaard explained. “It’s not easy conditions he was riding under and the guys up front, they took a chance and it paid off.”

Fränk Schleck too understood how the team’s big rival managed to get the better of them in the stage.

“Contador knows all too well that the Schlecks don’t perform at their best in the cold and rainy conditions,” he said. “It’s all part of the game; knowing your opponents and knowing their weaknesses.

“He knows the conditions today, coupled with the dangerous descent, were not our strong point.”

Stage seventeen, over the Alps to Pinerolo, Italy via Sestriere, has a similar finishing profile to that into Gap. If the weather conditions are similar to today’s, the Schlecks will likely find themselves under pressure once more.

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