Tour analysis: How the Schlecks can win
Andy Schleck attacks, Tour de France 2011, stage 14
With each passing stage the Schleck brothers are losing their their chance to win this year's Tour. Make no mistake, this is their race to lose, and the way they're riding at the moment, they're going to do just that.
They are the two best climbers in the race, but so far they have failed to crack the two riders that threaten to steal victory from them; Thomas Voeckler and Cadel Evans.
Voeckler is stubbornly holding on to the yellow jersey. He rode brilliantly through the Pyrenees, and could cling on through the three Alpine stages unless the Schlecks do something about it. Yes, his time trialling is suspect, but so is that of the Schlecks.
Factor in the effect the maillot jaune would have on the Frenchman in that final tt - and the support from a nation that would frankly be delirious if he was in yellow this coming Saturday morning - and you have to suspect that all things considered, it would be fairly evenly matched around Grenoble.
They must gain time on him before Saturday, and realistically, they've got just three chances to do it. Frank needs 1-49 minutes to draw level while Andy needs 2-15 if they aren't going to let the biggest opportunity they may ever get slip through their fingers.
And then there's Evans. Conservative estimates give the Australian 1-30 minutes over the Schlecks in Saturday's 42.5km TT. Going by that means Frank needs to put 1-13 minutes in to the BMC leader while Andy has to somehow put 1-39 minutes in to him. Even then those times leave nothing in the way of a buffer.
So how are they going to do it?
The only way is for one of them to sacrifice himself. They can't both make up that time, only one of them can do it.
Their problem is, not only are they trying to win the Tour, they're trying to do so without messing up the chances of the other. A 'just in case' policy perhaps. I wouldn't be surprised if behind closed doors they were dreaming of being on the podium in Paris together. It would be an historic achievement, but unfortunately for them, it's all but impossible with the way the GC is currently poised.
They have to realise that riding with each other's chances in mind isn't a tactic that will bring them the win. One of them must forfeit his chances of the podium for the other.
They have to commit to the fact that one of them on the top step of the podium and the other outside of the top ten is a greater achievement than them both finishing in the top five. Realistically those are their two options.
If one of them is going to gain enough time on Voeckler and Evans (assuming the rest will be distanced if they can drop those two) they will first need the other to stretch them to breaking point.
The only way to do that is an attack from a good distance out. And I don't mean one of those half hearted attacks we've seen so far, when one of them accelerates away before looking over their shoulder and easing up. You can't ride at 100 percent if you're looking over your shoulder. Try it if you don't believe me.
If one of the Schlecks was to go up the road on the Issoard on Thursday or the Galibier on Friday the chase could, and probably would, fatigue Voeckler, Evans and the rest so much that the door would be wide open for the other Schleck. Unfortunately for them it would also do for the chances of whichever one has to do it.
That sacrifice would give the other the free ride to the bottom of final climb, and the perfect launch pad to put serious time in to the others. If they can chip away at them on the other two Alpine stages then the Tour could be going to Luxembourg.
A true test of brotherly love.
Thanks to Chris Boardman whose knowledge and insight gave rise to this article. Read his expert opinion on this year's Tour de France in Cycling Weekly magazine, out every Thursday.