Andy Schleck is planning to launch wave after wave of attack on Tour de France rival Alberto Contador in a bid to take back the yellow jersey on the legendary Col du Tourmalet on Thursday.
And the Luxembourger, who lost the race lead to Contador on Monday following an untimely mechanical problem, is even prepared to risk his podium chances if it means going one better than his runner-up place to Contador in 2009.
Going into the final day of climbing on Thursday’s tough stage 17, Schleck has an eight-second deficit to Contador, the two-time winner who rides for Astana. Although Saturday’s penultimate stage time-trial over 52km will also play a deciding role, Saxo Bank climber Schleck knows that time is not on his side.
Contador is usually far stronger than Schleck in the race against the clock, leaving the Luxembourger with the job of finishing Thursday’s 174km stage, which finishes with an 18.6km slog to the summit of Tourmalet, with Contador at least a minute in arrears. Any less, and Schleck said his chances would look slim.
“I’m sure I can do a good time-trial, but I won’t beat Alberto in that domain,” Schleck told reporters on Wednesday’s rest day at his hotel, where Contador also happens to be staying.
“What’s sure is I have to have the yellow jersey before the time-trial if I want to win in Paris. With one minute (advantage) I’d be happy, though of course I’d prefer to have two minutes.
“But I think the guy who has the yellow jersey tomorrow (Thursday) will have it in Paris.”
Contador spent his first day in the yellow jersey this year on the 16th stage to Pau, where he and Schleck, who fell out after Monday’s stage, shook hands and appeared to agree on a pact of non-aggression.
It did not help, either, that the stage did not finish on a summit — the favoured terrain for both riders.
But stage 17 will be different. It features the Col du Marie-Blanque and the Col du Soulor, both of which are category one climbs, before the long slog to the uncategorised Tourmalet.
Contador said on Wednesday: “It’s a really tough stage, and I’m sure there will be significant time gaps.”
And despite having the edge over Schleck on the time-trial, this year the Luxembourger has matched every one of Contador’s attacks on the race’s climbs.
Schleck believes that despite the hilly profile of stage 17, the Tourmalet will host the real battle.
And he believes that climb, which does not have too many bends that cause changes of rhythm in pedalling, suits him perfectly.
“I’m sure my team will do their job up to the Tourmalet, but once we’re on the climb it will be up to me to do the rest. There’s only one way to attack and that is on the Tourmalet,” said Schleck.
He added: “It’s a very hard climb but it’s one I like because it’s steady and you don’t have to change rhythm too much.
“But it will be even harder going up the side we do tomorrow, compared with when we crossed over it on Tuesday. That was the easiest side.”
Although rain has been predicted for Thursday, Schleck said it changes nothing.
“I don’t think it will influence matters, unless there’s some crashes on the downhill before then. Wind, rain or shine, the Tourmalet is still the Tourmalet,” said Schleck.
His back to the wall before arguably the most important race of his career, Schleck, surprisingly, is brimming with confidence.
And he says there’s a simple explanation.
“I just feel I haven’t given it everything. Of course I’ve been racing hard, but my whole season has been designed on me reaching my peak form for these next few days. Right now, I feel in the form of my life.”
© AFP 2010