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2008 Tour de France

The following is the transcription of a phone interview of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, Tour de France commentators on Versus TV, as they answer questions about various stages of the race and different aspects of the Tour de France. The questions were provided by Jonathan Tessler, Vice President of Bicycle.net.

Earlier in the race when Schumacher beat Millar, Evans, and Cancellara by such a meaningful spread is that really give him a change of opportunity? Is that really what makes him a great rider? In other words, does the win on that stage pass the sniff test?

Phil Liggett (PL):  Yeah, there is no question of that, I don’t think. There was a lot of people that tipped Schumacher to win. He is not a rider who has won a major grand tour or stage before but he is an excellent time trial rider, he has been a national champion in his country, and he has been third in the world Road Race Championships, and he is a quality rider. Every year since 2005, he has won a time trial stage in of race in the world, but not a grand tour, that’s why we overlooked him completely. But I think the fact that he did win could be attributed to the fact that the Tour’s campaigns really are working. Here is a guy now getting a clean shot at riding clean and matching those riders who may in the past have been taking drugs.  So no I think he wasn’t a surprise. He wasn’t a guy in the back who’s now in the front. He is a rider of quality.  And I think he’s shown that since because he’s rode superbly in yellow.  He was very very unlucky to lose the lead when he crashed inside of the line. So no I don’t think there’s any fear of having drugs involved, and I don’t think he’s a very unusual winner either. In hindsight I have to say, that I certainly did pick him to win on that day.

Earlier in the race, what happened to Sastre? Will he be a GC for CSC? He climbs well, but can he make up time on Evans in the mountains? And what is the TT at the end of the tour mean? Will this be the coffin nail for Sastre?

Paul Sherwen (PS): I think Sastre has played a very clever game so far in the Tour de France; he’s hidden away from everybody. I think CSC have actually played a very quiet role in the Tour de France for an obvious reason, and that reason became apparent on the first big mountain stage because they were very dominant and they actually dictated the tactics of the game. I still think that team CSC and Carlos Sastre are very dangerous because they still got a lot of ammunition to launch, a series of attacks when they are in the best tactical position with Carlos Sastre and in reserve Frank Schleck who is also riding very well, in second place in the overall standings. So that makes them very dangerous. If Carlos Sastre does want to win the Tour de France this year, I think he has to go into the final time trial with at least a two minute advantage over Cadel Evans. Having said that, that means that he needs to attack once we get into the Alps and try and put time between himself and Cadel Evans so I don’t think he’s written off yet, I still think he is a very dangerous contender for a top

Do you think Cadel win the Tour by achieving an endless number of  second, third, and fourth places without ever stamping any authenticity on the race? Is Cadel incapable of being a winner other than by default?

PL:  No question that he can. When you can win the Tour de France, it’s been achieved on about half a dozen occasions without winning a single stage consistency is the key. Greg Lemond, for example, won the 1990 Tour without winning a stage of the Tour de France. You have to be strong.  When you haven’t gotten a strong team around you, sometimes you don’t get the opportunity to win a stage. You gotta work with the guys, like Paul Sherwen mentioned, CSC, an incredibly strong team, and a team  in the last two stages becoming highly motivated and quite dangerous too for when you go to the Alps .They have won both of the Alpine stages, and they were believed in the kings of the mountain. Their riders moved into positions in which they could wipe out Cadel’s advantage on what is a really tough final week of the Tour de France, a very very tough week.  So Cadel Evans certainly can win the Tour de France, he is the first Australian favorite to come to the start line and he’s got the race lead.  I think, personally speaking, I don’t think it’s an advantage to be tied for the lead and certainly not by one second because it now leaves you open for a very vulnerable situation.  Cadel, I think, his tactic should be now to just possibly lose the race lead , allow other riders to take it but be careful where he passes the jersey to, he’s got to play clever cards so he can take the pressure off himself and his team from trying to defend. Then he knows, if he can follow the moves of all of the likely favorite riders which are, I just named the teams, then he can come good in the time trial where he has already shown that he’s faster than these guys. What the mountains have done is eliminate the rider he feared most. Alejandro Valverde lost too much time in the Pyrenees and so did Damiano Cungeo, his two major rivals, I think they are gone now. So it won’t be so difficult now, I am just looking at certain elements of the race, without those guys involved. It may be possible in some way to make them even allies to try and get them in the lead, to help them win stages and gain much time. It’s going to be a great game of chess now, Cadel could win this race in the final time trial, it will be back to advantage Evans but he must go into that time trial not having lost too much time in the Alps. You have to remember he knocked a lot of time into Frank Schleck, one second behind him in a short time trial he can double that in a longer time trial, so he can afford to lose two minutes to Frank Schleck and still win the Tour de France.

Since you mention Frank Schleck, it seems like Frank is off doing his own thing; nobody is noticing Andy lurking around.  Andy is well placed among the GC and he seems unshakeable in the mountains, isn’t he the young man to watch at the moment?

PL:  Well Frank is an interesting character, he’s come into this race as a strong support for Carlo Sastre.  Sastre has dropped through that he is the individual, one and only leader of that team and this is the way it’s been right down to the Pyrenees. Within the Pyrenees they set up the race for Sastre to win the day and possibly to take the lead and it was Frank Schleck who finished it off. Now they are rethinking, “How are we going to play this?” At the moment it doesn’t matter, there’s so many days ahead in the tour they can play all the cards and allow the peloton to shake out and produce a leader they like in the end of it. For the time being, I think they will still stay loyal to Sastre as the likely winner, I think he can get better as he goes on, he normally does. He is an incredibly consistent rider he is already up to sixth overall now. Frank was very very upset when he finished and he thought “wow,  I have just lost the Marje Je On by a single second” and kept walking out saying “a single second, a single second” he wanted the race lead, now that’s not a man who wants to win the Tour de France because the man who wants to win the Tour de France is at the end on the Sunday, on the final Sunday.  So I think they will still play the cards. I think Frank could still be the man, it’s because he has won but we’ll wait and see what happens at the end.

Team Columbia have to be the Cinderella story this season, they toss out a bunch of dopers – Jan Ullrich, etc… and bring on King George and Bob Stapleton, and they are winning everything they show up at, what is working for them?

PS:  I think it’s the team spirit that’s working for team Columbia because basically under the direction of Bob Stapleton they found a new meaning in life, they found a new belief in life and they fought to get rid of their  old skeletons. Bob Stapleton brought together what is really a very international bunch of riders. It took a little while to do it, let’s not forget Bob Stapleton took over the team and the running of the team while Ullrich was onboard so it had to take a very long time. When you take over a team, you take over a bunch of contracts that are actually in place. So it takes a while to sort things out.  But I think what he has done is, he has brought together a group of guys who have formed a serious fraternity, and when you see George Hincapie leading out Mark Cavendish, when you see Gerald Ciolek lead out Mark Cavendish or you see different guys riding on the front to defend the lead of Kim Kirchen you realize that it’s kind of an all for one, one for all attitude, and I think that is the spirit that he is managed to bring into Team Columbia.  And the thing with the professional cycling team is that once you get success, or once you start to get success, you feed on it and everybody else feeds on it and despite of what is quite amazing is that Kim Kirchen has the green jersey lead in the Tour de France before he had the yellow jersey he was quite prepared to sacrifice it to help young Mark Cavendish win the stage and I think that’s the spirit that has helped Team Columbia become very successful. 

Do you think Hincapie is a top 10 guy this year or even top 5? How is he doing in the mountains?

PS:  I think George Hincapie has lost too much time now to consider being a top 10 or a top 20 finisher. I think he is quite happy with his role as the team captain.  He is the guy who is the one actually calling the shots in the race, not in the team car. The management of course,  are exceptionally experienced team managers but one thing that Brian Holm said to the press is that, “We do not have a team for the mountains, we do not have a team to support Kim Kirchen, but we have got George Hincapie.” By that what he meant was that when they are out on the road, when they are chasing, when they are organizing things Hincapie has so much experience to offer and bring to the table, he says, “ Guys, lift the pace, slow down, don’t panic, round this corner, well pick it up again in 10 kilometers” and that’s something he has learned from riding with Lance Armstrong to seven Tour de France wins over the period when he was riding along side Lance.  So I think George has found another role in his professional career and I think he is enjoying it, he is not thinking about finishing 12th or 15th or 19th, he is enjoying the success of Team Columbia because he feels he is part of the success and I think will look to win himself an individual stage between here and Paris.

Who do you think is going to get desperate and go for the Hail Mary? Who is going to get antsy and try something crazy?

PL:  That is a difficult question. This has been an excellent Tour de France, both Paul and I are feeling that the dope tests have been in and the new system is working. The biological testing has finally freaked out the athletes and the rider’s doctors, the guys that have been in the background. We are now seeing a very good Tour de France which has been clean and on fresh air which I hope is very true, and because of that I think we are now seeing a tour that is very unpredictable, very interesting. We have already had five changes of race leader, very often the leadership hardly changes. Now the record is eight.  The green jersey has finally changed the point competition with Oscar Vern, its set to change at the end because the race is so close. The white jersey has changed on three occasions and certainly the king of the mountain jersey has changed on several occasions but taking all of that into account I think we have a very unpredictable Tour and I think that a lot of the riders now will believe that they can win stages. As we move into the second half of the race time gaps have opened, guys know who can and can’t win the Tour. Guys who can’t win the tour will look to win the stages. I think we will likely see, even on what we call the transitional stages over the next couple of days which take us from the Pyrenees to the Alps, I don’t think there will be sprints, there will be breakaways, and the guys will stay away for the finish, I don’t think it will affect the overall lead, but they will have the opportunity to say that they have won a stage on the Tour de France.


Videos From Versus

Levi Leipheimer talks about creating cycling history on Versus TV. Tune in to the Tour de France on Versus July 5 - July 27th, 2008. Check your local listings or http://www.versus.com/tdf for more details

Check out Johan Bruyneel talking Tour de France on Versus. Check out the Tour de France July 5th - July 27th, 2008. Check your local listings or http://www.versus.com/tdf for more

Marcus Burghardt talks about winning Stage 18 of the 08' Tour de France on Versus.

George Hincapie talks about Stage 16 of the 08' Tour de France. Check your local listings or http://www.versus.com/tdf for more information.

Carlos Sastre talks about Stage 18 of the 08' Tour de France. Check your local listings or http://www.versus.com/tdf for more details.




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