Just 24 hours before their Tour de France showdown on the slopes of the Tourmalet, Alberto Contador opted to avoid the media and enjoy a low key rest day in Pau. However his big rival Andy Schleck was happy to be in the spotlight and held court in front of a hundred journalists.
Schleck sat next to Saxo Bank team manager and owner Bjarne Riis. Their partnership will soon end when the Schleck brothers move to their own Luxembourg-based team. However they both still want to try and win the Tour de France.
Schleck is only 25 and so will win the best young rider's jersey even if he fails to take the yellow jersey. Yet he is mature for age and seems able to handle the pressure and expectations on his young shoulders.
He knows he has to go on the offensive if he is to have any chance of victory in the Tour, and is not afraid to say it.
"The Tour is ending and I'm running out of time. I can't wait until he has a bad day. There's only one chance left and that's tomorrow. I've got to try everything," he said to the media gathered at his feet.
"I know I need to be in yellow for the start of time trial to have a chance of winning the Tour. If I have the jersey I'll be really motivated in the final time trial. I don't know if 30 seconds or a minute would be enough. I'd prefer to have two minutes. I was really bad in the Rotterdam time trial but now things are different after three weeks of racing. I think I can do something."
All on the Tourmalet
Bjarne Riis made it clear that Saxo Bank's strategy is all built around Schleck attacking Contador on the slopes of the Tourmalet and hopefully gaining enough time to win the Tour. Schleck totally agreed.
"There's only one way (to win) and that's on the climb of the Tourmalet. If you go before you won't succeed," he said.
"I've always said that the guy who has yellow tomorrow, will have it in Paris. I still believe that. Tomorrow is definitely the queen stage of the race. It's a really hard climb and the hardest in this year's race, especially the side we go up tomorrow. Yesterday we went up the other side. It's hard but nothing crazy. The side we go up tomorrow is bloody hard."
Respect for Contador
Schleck was angry with Alberto Contador for attacking him while he was struggling to put his chain back on the Port de Bales. Yet he has quickly forgiven him and admits that, despite their cultural and nationalistic differences, they are very similar.
Indeed, they are so equally talented that their battle at this year's Tour de France could mark be the start of one of cycling's greatest rivalries.
"We're different but I admire him because he's got his feet on the ground. He is who he is," Schleck said.
"I think I'm the same. I don't want to be somebody I'm not. He lives for cycling like I do. I know for the next 10-15 years I'll live totally for cycling, but after that I'll have another life. He thinks in the same way and I think that's a pretty good thing to have as a cyclist."
Many people believe that Contador does not have the same form as in his previous Tour de France victories, but Schleck disagrees. He is convinced he is the one who has improved and so closed the gap on Contador.
"There was a big difference between us in the time trial and even on the climbs last year, I couldn't follow him. But this year is different," he explained.
"He's eight seconds ahead of me in GC but I don't think there's a big difference between him and me on the climbs now. I think I've improved because I look at the gaps behind to other riders."
"Last year I was second and I said I'd come here to win it. That's the main goal of the season. The first part of my season didn't go as I wanted it to. So that gave me extra motivation and I trained really hard for that. That's why I'm at the level I am."
Confidence from 'Chaingate'
Schleck again talked about what has been dubbed Chaingate - his mechanical problem on stage 15, and the subsequent tension and polemics about who attacked, when and where. For Schleck it is all in the past.
"We spoke during the stage yesterday and Alberto apologized and said he made a wrong decision in the heat of the moment. I'm not angry at him anymore," he said.
"It's finished for me and I think it should be finished for the public too. I didn't like it when they whistled at him because he's a great champion. I think people should stop it."
Schleck is even ready to accept the consequences of what happened, even if it cost him victory in the Tour de France.
"Then it just means I'm not meant to win the Tour this year," he said.
When asked if he would wait for Contador if his chain slips on the Tourmalet, he said: "It won't happen. The Tour won't be decided because of a chain slipping or not."
He has even taken confidence from the incident and the from the results of the huge effort he was able to make on the climb to try and hang onto the yellow jersey.
"When I dropped my chain, the moment I got back on the bike I was 50 seconds back. At the top I was only 15 second down, I bridged a pretty good gap there and that gives me confidence," he said.
"I know I haven't given it everything yet."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.