Schleck strikes early blow on Tour de France

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Schleck strikes early blow on Tour de France

MONT DES ALOUETTES, France - Two-time runner-up Andy Schleck and his Leopard Trek teammates have made a near-perfect start to the Tour de France, putting themselves in an ideal position to claim the yellow jersey in Sunday’s team time trial.

Schleck, who lost last year’s Tour to Alberto Contador by just 39 seconds, finished Saturday’s first stage behind the Spaniard after being caught in a crash near the finish. But he benefited from a rule that gave him the same time as the riders who were with him when the incident happened.

Schleck now leads his Spanish rival by 1 minute, 14 seconds and trails race leader Philippe Gilbert by only six seconds, a margin that the Luxembourg rider’s strong Leopard Trek outfit can easily erase in the team time trial.

The team was launched this season around brothers Andy and Frank Schleck and lured several riders from Contador’s current team Saxo Bank.

“We can achieve a good result with this strong team and aim for the stage win,’’ Leopard Trek sports director Kim Andersen said. “If there is a chance to get the yellow jersey, we’ll take it.’’

Should the team win Sunday’s 23-kilometer (14.3 miles) stage in Les Essarts, Linus Gerdemann would don the prestigious shirt as he is the best-placed rider from the team in 11th position overall, six seconds behind Gilbert.

Schleck took advantage of a rule stipulating that the riders involved in a crash within the last three kilometers of the stage are credited with the same time as the pack they were in.

Contador was slowed down by another pileup about nine kilometers from the end and could not benefit from the rule.

Contador and Schleck finished the 191.5-kilometer stage in the same group and in 35th and 39th position, respectively. But Contador lost a significant 1 minute 20 seconds while Schleck conceded only six seconds.

“Cycling is not just about pedalling, it’s also important to ride with your brain and stay up front in such conditions,’’ Schleck said.

Andersen added: “We don’t like winning like this, but it happens. We were afraid it could happen to us, so we decided to stay up front. We are happy we are all safe and the day went on without any major incident.’’

Schleck said it was obvious that the first stage between Passage du Gois and Mont des Alouettes was going to be a nervous one.

“I mean we are in the Vendee region, it’s windy here and you need to be up front in the last 25 kilometers,’’ he said. “We gained some time today, tomorrow we’ll be aiming for the stage win and then we’ll see for the general classification.’’

Schleck said he was not aware that Contador was among the group caught in the first crash.

“When a crash happens while we are going 65 [kilometers per hour], it’s impossible to see who is there or who isn’t.’’ Schleck said.

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