Merckx applauds Andy Schleck’s gamble, says Tour is wide open
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Friday, July 22, 2011

Merckx applauds Andy Schleck’s gamble, says Tour is wide open

by Shane Stokes at 6:03 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
Belgian great says if Voeckler holds yellow on Alpe d’Huez, he can win the race

Eddy MerckxCycling’s top champion Eddy Merckx has applauded the attack made by Andy Schleck on yesterday’s stage of the race, saying that it took guts to strike out from so far away from the finish

“What Andy Schleck did today is something that I really appreciate, attacking from so far away,” he said. “He gave a lesson in cycling to everybody. This is what makes history in cycling. Now riders mostly attack in the last difficulty, but Andy had the courage to do that before, in the Izoard. It was really great exploit what he did today, a great performance, and we have to congratulate him for that.”

Merckx was in a race organisation car during the stage, watching the Leopard Trek rider out the sun roof as he made his exploit. The Belgian encouraged him as he battled the headwind on the last climb, and saw him race right back into contention.

When the dust had settled, six riders remained within five minutes of Voeckler. Defending champion Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank SunGard, pictured) is the most distant of those, and has admitted that it will be impossible to close the four minute 44 second deficit he now has. Italians Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) are fourth and fifth, and are both three minutes 46 seconds behind the yellow jersey.

Ahead of them, the Schleck brothers Andy and Frank are closest to Voeckler after yesterday’s stage. They are fifteen seconds and one minute eight seconds back, while Cadel Evans is one minute 12 in arrears. It’s clear that today’s stage to Alpe d’Huez is hugely important in terms of the battle for yellow.

Merckx feels it is too soon to call the overall victor in Paris. “The Tour remains very open. It is sure that if Voeckler still has the Maillot Jaune tomorrow evening, then he could be the final winner,” he said. “Evans appears to be very, very strong, looking at his climb today. I think there is a very strong chance that the time trial will decide who wins the Tour.”


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