- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2008

PAU, France | Frank Schleck of Luxembourg wants ideas.

The Tour de France resumes Wednesday, and he’s trying to figure out how to erase his one-second deficit to race leader Cadel Evans of Australia.

After 10 stages and more than 46 hours of racing, competitors took a rest day Tuesday after two punishing days in the Pyrenees in which Evans captured the yellow jersey for the first time in his career.

Several rivals wilted up the Tourmalet and Hautacam passes, narrowing the field of likely competitors for cycling’s ultimate prize when the three-week race ends in Paris on July 27.

The final shakeout is expected to come in three agonizing stages in the Alps - each featuring at least one climb that defies classification for difficulty - and a time trial a day before the Champs-Elysees finish.

Schleck doesn’t expect to overtake Evans during Wednesday’s 11th stage, a 104-mile trek from Lannemezan to Foix.

“I ain’t gonna catch Cadel,” Schleck said beside a swimming pool at the hotel of his Team CSC outside Pau. “I guess it’s going to be a breakaway day, and the favorites are going to watch each other.”

But the prospect of trying to swipe the jersey did cross his mind.

“If you have any other options, I’ll take it,” he said.

Before the Tour started July 5, Evans gave himself “a pretty good chance to win.” He took a big step Saturday by gaining the yellow jersey and widening his lead over Alejandro Valverde of Spain, Damiano Cunego of Italy and Schleck’s younger brother, Andy. All were considered title threats before the race.

Frank Schleck beat Evans up the climb to the Hautacam ski station Saturday and watched on television to see whether he or Evans would take the overall lead from Team Columbia rider Kim Kirchen, also of Luxembourg.

“After two or three minutes they showed the classification, and I saw my name was there second,” Schleck recalled. “And it said [a gap of] one second. I said, ‘[Darn] it.’ I had some tears in my eyes. Having the jersey is nice.”

He also was disappointed his brother couldn’t keep pace.

“We are like twins, and he gave me all of his power - and he didn’t have any left,” Schleck said. “We are just human beings, you know. I have seen bad days, and I will see some more bad days coming in the next years. But that’s life. That’s bike riding.”

Schleck’s Team CSC is strong and has many assets with which to challenge Evans. The last day in the Alps (Stage 17) finishes at the legendary Alpe d’Huez, where Schleck won a stage in 2006.

“Put it this way: We’re not going to let Frank Schleck go in an early breakaway on the stage to the Alpe d’Huez the way he did that year,” Evans said.

In addition, Evans must keep an eye on another CSC rider, Carlos Sastre of Spain. Like Schleck, Sastre is a strong climber. He is sixth overall, 1:28 behind the Australian.

“They’re really going to be a force to be reckoned with, but they’re not the only ones,” Evans said, referring to the CSC contenders. “I hope I can resist.”

Evans is no stranger to close finishes. He was second in last year’s Tour, 23 seconds behind Spanish winner Alberto Contador. Levi Leipheimer was third, 31 seconds back, in the race’s closest finish.

“Of course, Cadel is scared - well, scared - don’t get me wrong,” Schleck said. “But, of course, he must think about it and how he is going to handle this.”

“Cadel was never an aggressive rider,” Schleck added. “If he’s going to win the Tour, it’s going to be because he’s a good time trialer. But that’s good enough, he’s a big champion.”

Among CSC riders, he said it’s down to him and Sastre in the title chase.

“We’re not good time trialers enough to just let everything go,” he said. “We have to ride aggressive. That’s obvious.”

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