Schleck plays mind games at Ax-3-Domaines

Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Alberto Contador (Astana) almost came to a standstill as Menchov and Sanchez attacked ahead.

Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Alberto Contador (Astana) almost came to a standstill as Menchov and Sanchez attacked ahead. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

The first Pyrenean mountain stage turned into a poker game between Alberto Contador (Astana) and Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank). The two contenders, Schleck in yellow, Contador determined to be, were so focused on each other that they ignored the attacks of their closest GC rivals Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel) and Denis Menchov (Rabobank).

"To win the Tour, sometimes you have to risk something. I'm well aware that it's better to have Armstrong ahead these days than Menchov," said Schleck. "Don't forget that Menchov is far enough down on us in the general classification. For now, Menchov and Sanchez aren't a real threat to us. That means there's a bit of space to [play] poker around," Schleck said.

The games started early on in the stage when it was the Astana team of Contador and not the team from yellow jersey Andy Schleck that was doing the work in the peloton. Then on the Port de Pailhères, the penultimate climb of the day and the first Hors Category climb of this year's Tour de France, Schleck and Contador weren't even keeping an eye on the front of the main group. "We were both sitting at the back. His whole team was surrounding him and I think by doing so he wanted to give the impression that he was bad, but that wasn't the case; he was really good," Schleck said.

Schleck held his cards close to his chest on the last climb from Ax-les-Thermes towards Ax-3-Domaines. Halfway up the 7.8 kilometre climb Contador raised the pot three times in a row with some blistering accelerations while Schleck continued to call all those moves.

"The tactic for today was that I would stick on his wheel. I don't like the last climb too much as it is a bit similar to the one in Mende. It was clear that I should not pass him because he would have attacked me and again gain seconds on me," Schleck said.

Schleck knows that with the 52km-long time trial in Bordeaux heavily in Contador's favor, he cannot keep up the same tactics through the rest of the mountain stages.

The fifteenth stage to Bagnères-de-Luchon on Monday features another Hors Categorie climb, the Port de Balès, and according to Schleck that climb could be the time to go 'all-in'. At 19.3 kilometres, it's a long enough climb to do damage, although the first half is a relatively gentle gradient.

"Tomorrow it's different and I might go 'all in' because I have to take time back on him," Schleck said.

Looking confident and calm, Schleck said that the pressure motivates him rather than breaks him down. "We know that Contador can handle it, too."

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