After ten hard days of racing in the 2010 Tour de France, the general classification is steadily taking shape, and the Alps have seen two young riders rise to the top: Alberto Contador (Astana) and Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank).
Schleck took over the yellow jersey from the injured Cadel Evans after stage nine, and at the finish in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne he reflected on decisive stage which crested the 25.5 kilometre long Col de la Madeleine.
On the illustrious climb Schleck tried several times to shake off his rival, but Contador fenced off all attacks, seemingly without much trouble. Realizing they wouldn't drop each other, the duo worked together to hold off the return of the other GC-contenders and catch the leaders. With Evans many minutes behind, Schleck was presented the yellow jersey and holds a 41 second lead over Contador.
Now the same age as Contador was in 2007 upon the Spaniard's first Tour win, does Schleck now have the maturity and experience needed to keep his yellow jersey through to the end?
"The difference from this year to last year is that I could never drop Contador, but he can't drop me either," said Schleck. "The difference now is that I'm 41 seconds ahead of him and if he wants to win this he has to attack me."
Contador showed some uncharacteristic weakness in the first Alpine stage, where Schleck edged out a few more seconds to add to those gained over the cobbles on stage 3. During the next critical phase, Schleck hopes he will equal or better his Spanish foe. "It looks like he's a little bit up and down. I hope that I can find a way when he's not super so I can gain more time on him. It might be possible that he's better in the Pyrenees, but me too. I really think that I'll be better than him in the Pyrenees."
The one area where Contador clearly looked more comfortable than Schleck was on the high-speed descent of the Madeleine, where Schleck was visibly timid. "Yes, it's true that I was afraid of that descent. I had done it [in training] on wet roads which made it very dangerous on the top and I was riding carefully. I told Alberto that if he would take risks that I wouldn't take them. It's better to lose ten extra seconds than to end up with your head upside down and to descend in an ambulance towards the hospital.
"And I know that my mother is watching the race. I know that she walks into the kitchen and paces back and forth. I told Bjarne on the top to call my brother and say that I wouldn't take any risks in the descent."
The onus is now on the Saxo Bank team to try and control the race, which may be a bit soon considering the number of stages to come and those already controlled by the team during the yellow jersey run of Fabian Cancellara.
"In a perfect world another rider like Cadel Evans would be wearing the yellow jersey to avoid having your team to work too much," Schleck said.
"Not a lot of riders would say no if they could take the jersey. The team is super motivated to work for me. The team already did it at the start of the race when they took the race in hands for Fabian, and now it is for me. The general classification has changed a lot. There's Contador an me, the third is already at two minutes fifty. Behind that the gaps are running up to nine minutes, ten or fifteen minutes. For the upcoming stages it's a bit easier for the team to control the race than how it was during the first week; it won't be easy of course."
Schleck said he expects the former favourites who lost a lot of time on today's stage to go on the attack.
"I expected more riders up in the front today. To be honest I'm not really surprised that [Evans] wasn't there today. I heard now that apparently he has a fracture in his arm and that didn't make things easier. It's unfortunate for him that he lost the jersey but that's the race; I'm happy that I have it.
"It was Alberto and I who decided the race today. The others can attack too, but they don't. If I were in their position and finished today on five, six, eight, nine minutes, I would go tomorrow and go all in and somehow try to turn this game around."