Climbers set to start their strut

Can­cel­lara keeps yel­low jersey as moun­tain stages ap­proach

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Suzanne Hal­libur­ton

GUEUGNON, France — Levi Leipheimer, one of Lance Arm­strong’s team­mates and a key lieu­tenant in moun­tain stages, was red­faced and drained Fri­day af­ter­noon as he ditched his bike at the end of an­other blis­ter­ing day de­signed for the sprint­ers of the Tour de France.

Fi­nally, Leipheimer and the rest of Team Ra­dioShack could look for­ward to the ter­rain they were hired to dom­i­nate: the moun­tains.

To­day the pelo­ton will test its climb­ing legs as rid­ers as­sault the Jura Moun­tains. The Alps, then, will be only a day away.

“I pre­dict we’ll have the best team in the moun­tains,” Leipheimer said. “And I think we’ll show that.”

Arm­strong still was in 18th place af­ter Fri­day’s stage, an­other win for Bri­tish sprint­ing sen­sa­tion Mark Cavendish.

Arm­strong will rely heav­ily on Leipheimer,

An­dreas Klö­den and other team­mates to pro­tect him, main­tain an ag­gres­sive pace and al­low him to draft them, con­serv­ing en­ergy. From time to time, one of the rid­ers will at­tack, forc­ing rid­ers from other teams to give chase.

Jani Bra­jkovic, the youngest mem­ber of Ra­dioShack, even may have a prom­i­nent role this week­end. A month ago, he earned a spot on the team af­ter he stayed even with de­fend­ing Tour cham­pion Al­berto Con­ta­dor on the climbs of the Dauphine, a race based in the Alps.

To­day’s 102.8-mile jaunt from Tour­nus to Sta­tion des Rousses may not be steep enough to en­tice the best to at­tack. The stage has a false sum­mit fin­ish to the French-Swiss re­sort of Les Rousses. It’s a Cat­e­gory 2 climb that will last for longer than 8 miles. But the fi­nal 2.5 miles fea­ture a flat straight­away into the re­sort, which could al­low rid­ers a chance to erase any time gaps built on the climb.

The other top rid­ers are an­tic­i­pat­ing that Ra­dioShack will take the early of­fen­sive to help make up the two-plus min­utes Arm­strong lost when he had a flat tire Tues­day on the cob­ble­stones near Bel­gium.

On paper, no other team is as strong as Ra­dioShack. Saxo Bank had been rated at Ra­dioShack’s level un­til it lost Frank Sch­leck, a past Tour moun­tain stage win­ner, to a bro­ken col­lar­bone ear­lier this week.

Aus­tralia’s Cadel Evans, a two-time Tour run­ner-up, is ex­pect­ing Ra­dioShack to do some­thing.

“Even in these early days peo­ple will be look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties,” said Evans, who was in third place over­all and the best-placed among likely yel­low jersey con­tenders.

“And there’s a cou­ple of guys on the back foot. I know how it is in that po­si­tion — you’ve got to look for op­por­tu­ni­ties ev­ery­where.”

Fabian Can­cel­lara will be wear­ing yel­low again to­day. But he is a time-trial spe­cial­ist and in the Tour to work for Andy Sch­leck, so he will prob­a­bly lose the jersey soon.

Andy Sch­leck, who is in sixth place, also could emerge in yel­low af­ter the week­end is fin­ished.

“There are two rid­ers I need to pay close at­ten­tion to, and that’s Arm­strong and Con­ta­dor,” Sch­leck said. “They are the strong­est. Arm­strong’s in good form, bet­ter than peo­ple might think.”

All the talk of attacks aside, many rid­ers may con­serve their ef­forts for Sun­day, the be­gin­ning of the first route in the Alps with a cat­e­gory one (the sec­ond-most dif­fi­cult) climb and sum­mit fin­ish in Morzine-Avo­riaz.

Arm­strong said Fri­day he was an­tic­i­pat­ing more ac­tion in Morzine, which will be the fi­nal stage be­fore the Tour’s first rest day. “There will be more an­i­ma­tion, more attacks,” he said.

Or maybe Arm­strong just didn’t want to tip his strate­gic hand, know­ing how strong of a team he’s as­sem­bled for the climbs.

shal­libur­ton@states­; 445-3954

Bri­tain’s Mark Cavendish won his 2nd straight stage.

Lau­rent Rebours AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Stage 6 win­ner Mark Cavendish, fifth from left, sprints to­ward his sec­ond straight stage vic­tory on Fri­day in Gueugnon, France.

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