Evans in good position despite arm
MORZINE, France -- The Tour de France is shaping up as a three-way race among 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 on Sunday -- a grueling Alpine trek 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."
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With two-time Tour winner Contador short of his best form, Evans realizes he has a good chance to win. He slightly injured his left forearm in a minor crash Sunday.
"The legs are still going, which is the important thing," Evans said. "That is what the main concern is right now. 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.
The punishing Alpine route featuring two category 1 climbs, and a tougher one that is beyond classification: a mammoth 15.9-mile ride up the Col de la Madeleine, one of the Tour's most formidable 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."
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Meanwhile, Armstrong finished in 61st place in the eighth stage and is more than 13 minutes behind Evans.
"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 to 39th place overall. "Obviously the Tour's finished for me," Armstrong said after Sunday's stage.
"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 struggling -- Wiggins was fourth on last year's Tour, but is now 2:45 back in 14th -- the path to the Paris podium on July 25 is clearing for the main contenders.
"That's like a mission accomplished. So it's one or two less guys to worry about," Andreu said. "Wiggins got dropped, so it starts reducing the number of contenders."
Contador could not match Schleck's hilltop acceleration on the final part of Sunday's climb. Schleck said he saw Contador in "difficulty" for the first time and got a big morale boost by winning Stage 8.
"Before, I have not seen him in difficulty yet, and I think yesterday he was," Schleck said. "I was surprised he couldn't follow, to be honest, because the day before I had a really strong impression of him."
Contador downplayed Schleck's comments.
"For me, he is still one the biggest favorites of this Tour de France," Contador said. "You might think [what he said] affects my feelings, but it doesn't change anything."
Schleck appears to be the more comfortable of the three main contenders, but faces a major disadvantage. Both Evans and Contador are much faster than him on time trials. Schleck, whose brother Frank was injured early on in the race and had to pull out because of a broken left collarbone, also has one less teammate to help him in the mountains.
The 25-year-old Schleck knows he will have to be in the lead on July 24 for the final 32.2-mile time trial, if he is to stand a chance of winning the Tour.
"The only thing I know is that I will need to be in yellow for the time trial," he said. "I can't say for now if I will need one minute or two minutes."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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