Watching Frank Schleck attack at Luz Ardiden, and finish third on the stage, brought back memories of the CSC strategy of 2008.
If you cast your mind back to the first mountain stage then, to the nearby Hautacam in the Pyrenees, it was Frank Schleck who attacked, finishing third, to move within one-second of the yellow jersey, then held by Cadel Evans.
The next opportunity in the mountains it was once again Frank who attacked, this time assuming the race lead. By the mid point of the 2008 edition of the race CSC had a major advantage. They had the race lead and another serious card to play in the shape of Carlos Sastre.
The race then went to Alpe d’Huez, as it does again this year, and while Frank Schleck was the race leader his Spanish teammate went on the attack, winning the stage and inheriting the malliot jaune. This left Evans in second place heading into the final time trial with a deficit that was too much to overcome. One of the sports directors calling the shots for CSC in 2008 was Kim Anderson. The number one man in the Leopard-Trek car this year calling the shots? Kim Anderson.
Evans will be well aware of this small piece of history. And the one-two Schleck strategy won’t come as a surprise to anyone. But the Australian is better placed than he’s ever been. Firstly his team. They’ve been flawless so far. As a starting point having that support has got to make getting to sleep at night easier. Plus, touch wood, he’s avoided the carnage so far, which wasn’t the case in 2008 – he hit the deck on stage nine that year.
Sure he’ll be isolated at the crucial moments in the mountains but everyone, bar the Schleck brothers, will be too.
Secondly he’s yet to get the pressure of race favouritism. In 2008 the expectation in the front group was that Evans should do the chasing of virtually any attack. This year Contador still carries much of that pressure – for now at least.
Basso, who Evans shares a coach with, has also showed he’s prepared to collaborate, where it’s mutually beneficial. Plus Evans has the measure of Frank and Andy in the time trial. But, again, as 2008 demonstrated it’s a dangerous game to give them too much latitude before the test of truth.
At almost two minutes ahead of Contador and a minute and 10 seconds to the better of Basso, with the Schlecks a handful of seconds either side, Evans doesn’t need to attack. He can ride conservatively and wait for his moment. As he did perfectly at Luz Ardiden, snatching another 13sec from Contador who is clearly suffering from Giro d’Italia and crash fatigue.
Yes, the Schlecks have the numerical advantage. No, Contador isn’t done with yet. The guy has won every grand tour he’s started since 2007 – write him off at your own peril. And Basso proved his quality winning last year’s Giro, where Evans was fifth.
Evans is looking as good as he ever has and the lessons of 2008 will serve him well. It will be a very tactical game from here to Paris.
Hope you weren’t planning on getting much sleep for the rest of the month.