Tour de France leader Andy Schleck is turning up the pressure on Alberto Contador as he and the defending champion lock into a two-way battle for supremacy.
With seven-time champion Lance Armstrong and two-time runner-up Cadel Evans of Australia out of contention, Schleck led Contador by just 41 seconds after the 9th stage on Tuesday, and the Luxembourg rider is trying to unsettle his Spanish rival.
“We’re pretty equal,” Schleck said. “If he wants to win this, he’s got to attack me.”
Sandy Casar won the stage in a thrilling sprint finish, with Schleck and Contador closing in fast as the Frenchman crossed the line narrowly ahead of Luis-Leon Sanchez of Spain and Damiano Cunego of Italy.
The front three finished with a time of 5 hours, 38 minutes, 10 seconds — two seconds faster than Schleck and Contador.
Casar’s win was spectacular, but the real drama unfolded elsewhere during the 203km trek from Morzine to Saint-Jean-La-Maurienne high in the French Alps.
After a stalemate up the opening two category 1 climbs — Col de la Colombiere and Col des Saisies — Schleck tried to break Contador on the mammoth finale up the Col de la Madeleine, a climb so daunting it defies classification.
Schleck surged ahead no fewer than three times, but each time Contador controlled the attacks.
“The others can also attack, but they don’t,” Schleck said.
“Right now it looks like it’s Alberto vs me,” he added.
Contador was only moderately impressed.
“I should not be distracted, but like I said [on Tuesday], the most dangerous [rival] is Andy Schleck,” he said.
Schleck claimed after the 8th stage on Sunday — the one which effectively destroyed both Evans and Armstrong’s Tour chances — that Contador was showing signs of weakness.
The 25-year-old Schleck said he still hopes to “find a weak day when [Contador] is not super, and I can gain more time on him.”
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