WINCHESTER, Va. -- Not everyone can afford a $1.7 million servant, but that's what Atle Kvalsvoll has in the Tour Du Pont, as his illustrious teammate Greg LeMond plays the role of "domestique" to Kvalsvoll, the team leader.
"Greg is helping me a lot," Kvalsvoll said of his high-paid teammate, who is a three-time winner of the Tour de France. "He has a lot of experience. He knows good tactics. When a rider takes off from the peloton [pack], he knows what to do to take them in again."
In the early stages of this 1,100-mile race, the leadership of the "Z" team was open. If LeMond broke on top, Kvalsvoll would work for him. If Kvalsvoll broke on top, it was up to LeMond to do the hard work.
When Kvalsvoll took the leader's yellow jersey in Stage 6 on the exhausting Wintergreen Mountain climb Tuesday, LeMond's job profile was set.
"This is what happens in cycling," said LeMond, who worked at the front to keep the pace up for Kvalsvoll at the foot of Wintergreen and worked at the head of the pack again yesterday to make sure no one broke away. "People don't understand this is a team sport and it has to work that way for someone to win.
"Last year, Atle was a super domestique for me in the Tour de France. Now I'm giving -- I'm giving a lot."
And LeMond leaves no doubt he expects a payback.
"I'm counting on him to give back at the Tour [de France]," LeMond said. "Being in the shape I'm in here, I should be in really good shape by July."
The role set up for "Z" riders is to have Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, Robert Forest, Johan Lammerts and Francios Lemarchand do the early work controlling the pack. Then LeMond and Jerome Simon go to the front to prevent any dangerous riders from breaking away near the end.
"I am very comfortable in the pack," Kvalsvoll said. "I am in good rTC hands. I think, with the way Greg is working for me, it will be easy for me to help him in France."
Yesterday, on the longest stage ride in U.S. cycling history, 170 miles, Rolf Aldag of Helvetia won the sprint to the finish line, with Greg Oravetz of Coors Light and Sean Kelly of PDM on his heels.
Kvalsvoll, meanwhile, after sitting comfortably behind LeMond and Simon all day long, came home in the same time, 8:21:09, in 24th place.
"It was a slow race and a good race for me," Kvalsvoll said of the march across the Blue Ridge Mountains from Hot Springs, Va., to Winchester. "I'm feeling very strong. I just relaxed all day. For me, it was a good run, because I'm still the leader."
He is the overall leader by 48 seconds over PDM's Erik Breukink, the man who was named the favorite coming into this race nine days ago.
And although Breukink is aware of the strength of Kvalsvoll's "Z" team, he is not counting himself out over the race's last three days.
"I feel better every day," Breukink said. "Atle has 48 seconds and it is pretty much. It is obvious he is in a better position, but I am going to try."
Breukink, who came in 25th yesterday, said everyone was afraid to attack in yesterday's long stage.
"No one knew if they would have enough left for the long ride," he said. "Now we have the ride to Harrisburg [today] and then Saturday I think we have the stage that could change the standings."
That stage is a 120-mile circuit race through the Pocono Mountains tomorrow. Sunday, the Tour comes to an end in Wilmington, Del., with a 16.1-mile time trial.
"The Poconos could be a hard test," said LeMond. "It could be dangerous for us. If things get going fast, it could be hard to control the race."
LeMond said that at this point he doesn't see Kvalsvoll expanding his lead today or tomorrow.
"If that's true, then it will probably come down to the time trial and that's where Breukink has an advantage," said LeMond. "But I would like Atle to hold on and win. It would make me feel good. It would make all my work here even more worthwhile."
Breukink believes he has a chance in the trials.
"Yes, an advantage," he said. "But Atle will have to be a little bit off and I have to be super. Forty-eight seconds is a lot."