2010 Tour de France Becoming a Three-Man Race

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07/12/2010| 0 comments
by AP, with additional commentary by Roadcycling.com

2010 Tour de France Becoming a Three-Man Race

Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck in the driver's seat; Armstrong too far back.

BMC rider Cadel Evans of Australia waves to fans while wearing the race leader's yellow jersey from the balcony of his hotel in Morzine during a rest day of the Tour de France cycling race July 12, 2010. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen (FRANCE - Tags: SPORT CYCLING)

Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck in the driver's seat; Armstrong too far back.

The Tour de France is shaping up as a three-way fight between race leader Cadel Evans of Australia, defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain and Andy Schleck of Luxembourg.

Evans leads Schleck by just 20 seconds after Schleck won the hardest stage so far -- a grueling Alpine trek on Sunday where Lance Armstrong cracked.

"Getting the yellow jersey at the Tour is always something special," the 33-year-old Evans said on Monday's rest day in Morzine. "To swap the (world champion's) rainbow jersey for the yellow jersey is a rare feat that I've had the honor to experience."

With two-time Tour winner Contador short of his best form, Evans may never have a better chance to win the Tour, and he is in no mood to take chances after slightly hurting his left forearm in a minor crash on Sunday.

"The legs are still going, which is the important thing. That is what the main concern is right now," Evans said. "It's a little bit uncomfortable right now. Hopefully with a good night's sleep I should be all right. I'll try to take it as easy as possible, and get as much physiotherapy as possible on my arm."

Contador trails by 61 seconds ahead of Tuesday's ninth stage.

Astana rider Alberto Contador of Spain, wearing the jersey of Spain's World Cup champions, kicks a soccer ball during a rest day for the Tour de France cycling race in Morzine July 12, 2010. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel (FRANCE - Tags: SPORT CYCLING)

The punishing Alpine route features two category 1 climbs, and a tougher one that is beyond classification: a mammoth 25.5-kilometer (15.9-mile) ride up the Col de la Madeleine, one of the Tour's most redoubtable mountain passes.

"It will be a really hard and complicated stage, and we should see the main contenders in the Madeleine," Contador said Monday, adding that he welcomes more attacks from Schleck and others to increase the overall speed of the race.

"Yes, it's possible, but that would be good for me," he said, speaking through an interpreter. "Maybe other riders will feel more confident and that will be good because then we have a stronger rhythm."

That will hardly thrill Armstrong after what happened to him during the eighth stage.

The 38-year-old Texan finished in 61st place after laboring in stifling heat, hauling his battered body up from crashes and up grueling mountain passes that used to seem so easy during his heyday.

Armstrong is more than 13 minutes behind Evans -- an impossible gap to close in two weeks.

"He can't come back from it ... especially against some of the best climbers in the world," Armstrong's former U.S. Postal teammate Frankie Andreu said.

It was a collective victory for all three Tour contenders to see the 38-year-old Armstrong plummet down the standings to 39th place.

Radioshack rider Lance Armstrong (L) of the U.S signs autographs before a training session during a rest day of the Tour de France cycling race in Morzine July 12, 2010. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard (France - Tags: SPORT CYCLING)

"This time it was Contador, Evans and Schleck who decided to eliminate the threat," Andreu said. "Armstrong's always a threat, so they had to ride on the front to make sure he's gone for good."

With British rider Bradley Wiggins also out of sorts - Wiggins was fourth in last year's Tour but is now 2:45 back in 14th - the path to the Paris podium on

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