Despite CSC claiming the yellow jersey at the 2008 Tour de France, the Schleck brothers’ “taunted” Carlos Sastre during the race, one of their former team-mates has claimed.
Kurt-Asle Arvesen has described Sastre as “a lonely swallow” during the high-point of his cycling career, and than no-one apart from the Spaniard knew about his Tour-winning attack on Alpe d’Huez before he flew out of the GC pack at the bottom of the climb.
Before the Tour, eight of CSC’s nine rider for the French Grand Tour had been sent to the Tour de Suisse by team boss Bjarne Riis, while Sastre raced the Critérium du Dauphiné.
“That was very special. We came there to the Tour with eight men from Switzerland, and Sastre was the only rider from the Dauphiné,” Arvesen told the Norwegian podcast Tidenes Tour de France, saying this division then manifested itself at the three-week stage race the next month. “Sastre was a lonely swallow. We were nine riders and it was eight to one.”
Arvesen claims the cracks between the Schleck brothers and Sastre had already appeared earlier in the season at the Tour of the Basque Country, when the two parties fell out.
“Sastre was there with his own sports car and there was some bickering with the Schleck brothers. There was a toddler game that was never resolved,” he said.
The former Norwegian road race champion says Riis had included him in the Tour squad to try and bring Sastre closer into the fold, the rest of the roster including Fabian Cancellara, Stuart O’Grady, Nicki Sorensen and Jens Voigt.
“We succeeded for the outside world, but there was a very bad atmosphere in the team,” Arvesen revealed. “Sastre wanted to take his own chance for the first time in 2008, but suddenly those annoying Schlecks came up. It was a real battle for the leadership.”
With Frank Shleck in the yellow jersey heading into the queen stage of the 2008 Tour, the peloton set out on stage 17 to tackle the Col du Galibier, the Col de la Croix de Fer and a summit finish on Alpe d’Huez. However, with an individual time trial on the penultimate stage 20 and Cadel Evans only eight seconds back, CSC’s GC lead was far from secure.
As Sastre accelerated out of the GC group at the foot of Alpe d’Huez, it seemed a tactical ploy to force the hand of CSC’s rivals, but Arvesen says no-one apart from Sastre knew the Spaniard had planned to lay claim to the yellow jersey over the next 13km and take the overall lead for himself.
“Nobody knew about Sastre’s plan. Not Riis, not the Schlecks,” Arvesen said.
Up the climb, the Schlecks countered their rival’s moves to catch Sastre, but never chased down their own team-mate, who had taken a minute and a half lead over Frank Schleck by the end of the stage. Sastre then survived the stage 20 ITT, maintaining a minute lead over Cadel Evans before wearing yellow into Paris.
It was “a humiliation for the Schlecks,” according to Arvesen, with Sastre leaving CSC at the end of the season for Cervélo, and the Schlecks given full leadership of the team that changed name to Saxo Bank for 2009.