Cycling: Schleck running out of time after epic mountain battle
YOU could scarcely see the hands in front of your face on the Tourmalet yesterday, but that did not bother Alberto Contador, who only had eyes for Andy Schleck's back wheel, WRITES BRENDAN GALLAGHER.
A third Tour de France title was effectively at stake and Contador rode with clarity of thought and vision in the mist.
In the final 100 metres Schleck inched ahead again to cross the winning line first, but in reality he needed to win by nearly a minute to remain competitive with just tomorrow's time-trial left to influence the outcome.
Schleck might have taken the battle honours yesterday, but barring an act of God, he lost the war.
The combatants, still separated by just eight seconds after more than 83 hours of racing, embraced warmly afterwards with all thoughts of their falling-out earlier this week banished. Both are on record as saying that the rider in yellow at the top of the Tourmalet will win this year's Tour.
Contador is that man and the Spaniard would probably have to suffer an accident or injury tomorrow for him to be denied.
For 10 excruciating vertical kilometres up the Tourmalet -- and they had already been heading steadily upwards for the previous 20km -- the reigning champion tracked the pretender on what was always reckoned to be the crux section of the key stage of the Tour.
Schleck did all the pushing and was constantly accelerating, but Contador stuck so close it was hard to discern the changes of pace.
With just 4km to go, Contador went to the front for the only time and accelerated, a move which immediately drew a response from Schleck, who pulled alongside and stared at the man in yellow. It seemed more perplexed than threatening, but others wondered if the mind games were starting. On these occasions it can be the mind that cracks first, not the body.
"I just wanted to remind Andy I was there, to show him I had good legs and that I wasn't going anywhere," said Contador.
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