Alberto Contador was kept waiting at least another day for the Tour de France yellow jersey.
Contador accelerated and slowed twice as he battled with Andy Schleck on the final climb of stage 14 yesterday before they crossed the line together in the Ax-3 Domaines ski resort. France’s Christophe Riblon won. Schleck leads defending champion Contador by 31 seconds overall.
“It was a little bit of a mind game between him and me,” Schleck told reporters. “I guess he’s not happy, he didn’t gain a single second.”
Spain’s Contador, who’s seeking a third Tour de France win in four years, has three more Pyrenees mountain stages and a time-trial to pass Schleck before the race ends July 25 in Paris. Schleck is trying to become Luxembourg’s first winner of cycling’s premier race since 1958.
Samuel Sanchez of Spain is third, 2 minutes, 31 seconds behind Schleck following yesterday’s 115-mile stage, the first in the Pyrenees. Russia’s Denis Menchov is fourth, 13 seconds further back. Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, riding his last Tour de France, dropped two places to 38th and is almost 40 minutes behind Schleck.
Schleck and Contador were so alert to each other’s moves they allowed Sanchez and Menchov to gain 14 seconds on them. That won’t have any bearing on the race’s outcome, according to Bjarne Riis, who manages Schleck’s Saxo Bank team.
“These two guys are so strong that it doesn’t matter about losing time,” Riis said. “It’s a tactic game between them.”
Rivalry With Armstrong
Contador won last year’s Tour in a race marked by his rivalry with Astana teammate Armstrong, now with RadioShack. It wasn’t just 38-year-old Armstrong that failed to keep up with the pace of the race leaders yesterday. Two-time runner-up Cadel Evans and 2008 champion Carlos Sastre also fell behind.
“It was a fight between me and him,” Contador said, referring to Schleck.
Riblon, who rides for the AG2R team, won the stage by 54 seconds after a solo ride over the 9.6-mile Port de Pailheres -- a climb that is rated out-of-category because it’s so difficult -- and the five-mile ascent to Ax-3 Domaines.
A team official driving alongside Riblon squirted him with water from a bottle as he covered the last few miles as the temperature approached 30 degrees Centigrade (86 degrees Fahrenheit). Schleck said he’s expecting more pressure from Contador in the Pyrenees today.
“It’s stressful,” Schleck said. “I’ve got a lot of pressure on my shoulders but the pressure motivates me.”