By Mark Etheridge
Last year’s Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck put his hand up and let his rivals know he’s in it for the long run again in Sunday’s eighth stage in the French Alps.
And as expected, the sprinters, South Africa’s Robbie Hunter among them, took a backseat in the race’s most difficult stage to date, an 189-kilometre slog between Station des Rousses and Morzine-Avoriaz.
Indeed the 186 riders left in the race will be hugely appreciative of the fact that Monday is a rest day after an eventful first week, with crashes galore.
Among those reflecting will be seven-time winner Lance Armstrong, who fell twice on Sunday, ended 11min 45sec off the pace and admitted that his chances of an eighth victory were dashed. The 38-year-old American is now 13:26 down the field.
Hunter ended 114th in the stage, the Garmin-Transitions rider ended 27:49 down and now finds himself in 128th place overall (53:21).
And the Garmin-Transitions team have also plummeted down the team standings, from first on Saturday to 18th of 22 teams.
Said Hunter: “Took it easy today & cruised in. Lance had a lot of bad luck, rolled a tyre off his wheel just before the climb I hear & he crashed. Not cool. I’m sure if he is ok he will still do something special this tour… gonna make things interesting!!!!!”
Meanwhile Team Saxo Bank’s Schleck looked impressive as he edged ahead of Euskaltel’s Spanish rider Samuel Sanchez after the two had shaken off the field 1km from the summit finish.
Heading the General Classification after the first week’s racing is Australian Cadel Evans, the BMC Racing team rider 20sec ahead of Luxembourg’s Schleck, whose older brother Frank had to pull out with a broken collarbone earlier in the week.
Defending champion Alberto Contador is third on the GC, 1:01 down the time sheet.
There’s no let up for the three main contenders on Tuesday as they hit another brutal stage, 204.5km of it with four daunting climbs, worst of them being the murderous Madeleine which could well be decisive in who comes out tops eventually.