Cancellara dreading Alps stages

Thursday, July 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:56 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fabian Cancellara says he knows his days in the Tour de France’s yellow jersey are numbered as the race heads toward the Alps.

The Swiss time-trial ace kept the prized race leader’s shirt after Wednesday’s fourth stage, a mostly flat 119.9-mile ride from Villers-Cotterets to Joigny won by Thor Hushovd of Norway.

No rider has threatened Cancellara’s lead since he won Saturday’s prologue and extended his margin with a daring win in stage three Tuesday, but others are stronger climbers.

“For me, when I get into the mountains, it’s sure that it’s finished,” Cancellara said of his run as the leader.

Hushovd, who won the green jersey awarded to the Tour’s best sprinter in 2005, overcame stomach pain to earn his fifth Tour stage win with a final sprint, finishing ahead of South Africa’s Robert Hunter in second and Oscar Freire of Spain in third.

“Everything took place superbly well,” said Hushovd, who took first in 4 hours, 37 minutes, 47 seconds. “I’m too happy.

“I was sure my form wasn’t too bad.”

The Norwegian climbed from ninth to second place and gained bonus points for the victory that put him 29 seconds back of Cancellara. Andreas Kloeden of Germany, who was runner-up to Lance Armstrong in 2004, is third, 33 seconds behind.

Riders break out of the flats today with a 113.4-mile trek from the Burgundy town of Chablis to Autun featuring eight medium-grade climbs.

“Someone’s really going to have some guts to go for it tomorrow,” said Cancellara’s CSC teammate Christian Vandevelde of the U.S. “People are going to be biding their time thinking about (the Alps).”

In the Alpine stages of the three-week race, overall favorites could try to make their move and chisel out precious minutes on their rivals. Few can be ruled out yet: 160 riders are within two minutes of Cancellara.

Kazakhstan’s Alexandre Vinokourov is widely seen as the top contender, though Kloeden, U.S. rider Levi Leipheimer, Australia’s Cadel Evans, Russian Denis Menchov and Spaniards Alejandro Valverde and Oscar Pereiro are all strong possibilities.

Two riders dropped out after crashing early in Wednesday’s stage. Xavier Zandio of Spain broke his right collarbone and France’s Remy di Gregorio broke his right elbow.

A total of four riders have pulled out, leaving 185 riders left.

The Tour, in its 94th edition, is taking place as cycling has suffered huge blows over the last year because of doping allegations involving some of the sport’s biggest names.

Would-be title contenders like Italy’s Ivan Basso and American Tyler Hamilton have been forced to sit out over doping probes, and few experts believe that the peloton is fully clean.

The 2006 champion, Floyd Landis, is also out, and awaiting an arbitration panel’s verdict whether he can keep the title after testing positive for synthetic testosterone in Stage 17 last year.

The International Cycling Union, or UCI, has publicly sought to crack down.

All Tour racers signed a new UCI anti-doping charter in time for Saturday’s start, saying they are not involved in doping and promising to submit DNA samples to authorities for a vast probe called Operation Puerto, which erupted in May 2006. Cyclists also had to agree to pay a year’s salary on top of a two-year ban if caught doping.

The UCI this week said it wants team managers and staff to sign a similar pledge by Aug. 1, three days after the Tour ends.

NASCAR: After Kyle Busch and his older brother Kurt tangled on track and exchanged some harsh words at NASCAR’s all-star event in May, Jeff Gordon made it a point to make some time for his teammate, Kyle.

Gordon’s still willing to give the 22-year-old driver, who’s leaving Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the season to make room for Dale Earnhardt Jr., the benefit of the doubt. Even in the wake of Busch’s accusations Saturday that his teammates didn’t work with him in the race he lost by inches at Daytona.

“I think he’s got the utmost support from me,” Gordon said Wednesday during a teleconference. “I showed him that before any of these moves happened. ... Throughout this whole thing, I’ve told him, ‘Hey, I’m going to support you, race with you hard but be your teammate at the same time.’

“I plan on continuing to do that because it’s in our best interest because that (No.) 5 team is such a solid team.”

Teamwork is particularly important at Daytona, one of only two Nextel Cup tracks where NASCAR requires horsepower-sapping carburetor restrictor plates. Drivers need a partner to help them gain and keep momentum.

At the end of Saturday’s Pepsi 400, Jamie McMurray’s Roush Fenway Racing teammates helped push him to the win over Busch. While Busch was racing on the low side of the banked oval, teammates Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears chose to stay in the high groove.

“I guess I’m on the outside looking in now,” Busch said after the race. “I’m probably not going to be invited to the team meetings next week. I think bliss is over at Hendrick Motorsports for Kyle Busch. We’re getting ready for 2008.”

While recording his satellite radio show for this week, Johnson was asked about Busch’s remarks.

“I mean, dude, we’re racing, and he should know better than anyone that there’s times that work and don’t work. And he should also know and recognize that there’s times where he doesn’t necessarily do what other people want him to do, including his teammates, on the track,” Johnson said. “So it is what it is. ... I mean he’s not in a good situation with the fact that he’s leaving. ... It would be hard to believe that things don’t escalate as times goes on and it doesn’t become more difficult for this whole teammate situation to exist.”

But Gordon said everybody should cut Busch some slack for his outburst.

“I think that was a little bit of frustration,” he said. “I think he had such a great car and a shot at winning that race.”

, and I think that, if he was driving my car, he would understand that I didn’t really have a great opportunity to get down there and help him as easy as it may have looked.”

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