Lance Armstrong’s impressive form on this year’s Tour de France may have taken some people by surprise, but Saxo Bank leader Andy Schleck insisted Monday the American can win an eighth title.
The 24-year-old Luxemburger is 1min 49secs behind Italian yellow jersey holder Rinaldo Nocentini.
But Schleck says Armstrong, the seven-time champion who is participating for the first time since retiring in 2005, can win the Tour - and ominously for his rivals - is getting stronger.
Schleck, who won the white jersey for the best placed rider aged 25 and under last year, says he has been watching him improve since May’s Giro d’Italia when Armstrong finished 12th.
Now, the American is third overall at only 8secs behind Nocentini and only 2secs behind Spanish teammate Alberto Contador ahead of the resumption of racing Tuesday on the 10th stage.
“Armstrong can win the Tour de France for sure, I saw it at the Giro,” said Schleck, who raced in May’s Tour of Switzerland rather than the Giro.
“Although he wasn’t amongst the leaders, he was in good shape.
“I think he is improving - he’s strong, he’s slim and, of course, he’s got a good motor.”
Astana have four riders in the top six of the Tour’s general classification, with American Levi Leipheimer in fourth and Andreas Kloden of Germany in sixth.
But Schleck says Armstrong and Contador, the 2007 winner, are the main threats from the Kazakhstan-backed team.
“People say Astana have main four cards to play on this Tour de France,” said Schleck.
“But for me, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloeden aren’t really ‘cards´, they have two leaders in Armstrong and Contador.”
Contador knocked Armstrong down into third place with a powerful finish on Friday’s seventh stage from Barcelona up to Arcalis in Andorra, the only summit finish of three days in the Pyrenees.
But Schleck says he would be surprised if the Spaniard can produce such impressive climbing in the Alps.
“Contador is not unbeatable,” said Schleck.
“It will not be the same story in the Alps, which will be different from the Pyrenees.
“The stages there are tougher and I don’t think Contador can make big differences in the Alps.”