Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck have signalled each other as the favourite for the overall title at the 2010 Tour de France. The winner and runner-up in this year's edition of the Tour paid due respect to one another as they outlined their impressions of the route for next year's Tour in an interview with Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, published on Saturday.
Contador finished 4:11 ahead of Schleck at this year's Tour de France. Two-thirds of the Spaniard's overall advantage was taken in the race's three time-trial stages: the prologue, stage four team time trial and stage 18 individual time trial. Contador said that the 2010 Tour route, which includes 59 kilometres of individual time trials, will significantly reduce his advantage over Schleck.
"Next year's Tour de France is definitely to Andy's advantage," Contador told the newspaper. "The focus will be on the mountain stages and there are only two time trials. The long time trial is on the penultimate day, where condition will make the difference. For a specialist time trialist like me it will be harder to make a [decisive] difference.
"If I want to stay ahead of Andy, than I will have to work harder than I ever have before."
Schleck echoed Contador's sentiment and said despite the reduction in time trials for next year's Tour, he would need to improve in the discipline if he is to topple the defending champion.
"The main thing is that I lost the Tour this year in the time trials. I have to work hard at improving this," he said. "Alberto is an example in this regard. He is so terribly professional."
With the team time trial once again removed from the Tour route, Schleck predicted a far more individual contest in next year's race
"Next year the Tour will be a man-to-man fight and the strongest rider will win," said Schleck. "There is no team time trial and mountain stages look as though they can be kept under control. The strength of the team in 2010 will not be as decisive as it was this season."
Both riders are likely to face stiff opposition from riders such as Lance Armstrong and Cadel Evans at next year's Tour, but at the respective ages of 26 and 24, Contador and Schleck appear the riders most likely to confront one another in the years to come. The Luxembourger acknowledged that while he will challenge Contador next year, he believes it will be several seasons before he can regularly match his rival.
"There is certainly a chance to beat Alberto, but it will be two to three years before I can get to the same level as him."
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