Schleck is ready for Contador

2010-07-17 14:00

Rodez - Andy Schleck got a brief taste on Friday of what key Tour de France rival Alberto Contador could be planning for their anticipated battle for the race's yellow jersey.

But the Luxemburger says he is more than ready for Contador's attacks on the far longer climbs that feature on four crucial stages in the Pyrenees, beginning with Sunday's 184.5km 14th stage from Revel to Ax-3-Domaines.

Saxo Bank leader Schleck has been leading the race since taking the yellow jersey from Cadel Evans after the Australian's spectacular collapse, albeit while racing with a fractured elbow, on stage nine to Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne.

Schleck now has to try and drop former two-time champion Contador.

The Spaniard cheekily took ten seconds off Schleck when he attacked on the 3.1km 'Jalabert' climb on Friday's 12th stage, a brutally steep ascension which simply did not suit the Luxemburger.

Schleck has pledged to give Contador something to chew on on the roads leading to the race's high mountain passes. And while admitting his 31sec lead is not huge, he believes he will be in the yellow jersey for some time yet.

"I'm still feeling good. I prepared this Tour to be good in the Pyrenees so I will not be getting weaker," said Schleck.

"The Pyrenees will be different. Today (Friday) there were still a lot of riders on the last climb. In the Pyrenees it will be a duel between Contador and me.

"I bet he's nervous, and I am of course also nervous because I still have to take time on him.

"I enjoy it every time that I climb the podium to receive a new yellow jersey and I'm convinced today wasn't my last time on the podium."

Contador's 10-sec reward for his attack on Schleck might seem insignificant now, but given that France's Laurent Fignon famously lost the Tour by just eight seconds to American Greg Lemond in 1989, it cannot be discounted.

As Evans can also testify, having lost the 2007 Tour de France to Contador by just 23secs, well-timed attacks here and there can do a lot of damage.

Sunday's 14th stage begins easily enough but at the 140km mark the pair's respective teams are likely to put all their men on the front to up the pace for the difficult 15.5km climb to the Port de Pailheres.

It has an average gradient of 7.9 percent, and is the second 'hors categorie' climb of the race.

The descent leads to the foot of the 7.8km climb to Ax-3-Domaines, the second summit finish of this year's Tour.

After a particularly brutal first two weeks, stage 14 should give a good indication of who is both mentally and physically toughest.

While Schleck is bullish, Contador is feeling confident too.

Claiming he struck "an important psychological blow" Friday, he added: "It's good to see your body responding like that after 210km of racing.

"I'm very pleased about this looking to the Pyrenees, especially the sensations in the legs. The next thing is to recover in time for Sunday."

The profile of Saturday's 196km stage from Rodez to Revel suits breakaway riders and sprinters and is unlikely to witness any kind of duel between Contador and Schleck.