LOURDES, France, July 15, 2011 (AFP) – Andy Schleck insists the winner of Saturday’s 14th stage on the Tour de France to Plateau de Beille will not necessarily be crowned yellow jersey champion this year.
Luxemburger Schleck has finished runner-up the past two years and is one of several riders hoping to loosen Spaniard Alberto Contador’s grip on the race.
Stage 14, the third and last day in the Pyrenees, finishes with the gruelling 15.8 km ascent to Plateau de Beille.
The climb has featured four previous times on the race, and each time the stage winner has gone on to win the yellow jersey: Marco Pantani in 1998, Lance Armstrong in 2002 and 2004 and Contador in 2007.
Although aware of the historical significance of the stage, Schleck indicated that with another three mountain stages in the Alps there is still plenty of racing left.
“We’re looking forward to tomorrow, of course, but we don’t expect the Tour to be decided here,” he said. “Every race has to be ridden.”
After the Pyrenees, Contador, who has been suffering knee pain, will get a chance to recover for a few days before three, arguably more brutal, climbing days begin in the Alps starting on stage 17.
In the meantime, the ride to Plateau de Beille via four mountain passes is still likely to see Schleck and his older brother Frank aim to take more time from Contador.
On the first day in the high mountains Thursday Contador’s knee lasted the pace, but the Spaniard lost 33 seconds to Frank Schleck and 13 seondsc to two other yellow jersey rivals, Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans.
Going into stage 14 the Spaniard is four minutes behind race leader Thomas Voeckler of Europcar. Crucially, he is 2:11 behind Frank Schleck, 1:54 behind Evans and 1:43 behind Andy Schleck.
Andy Schleck warned: “We’re all good for tomorrow. Our legs feel good. Yesterday was the first act in the Pyrenees. We’re eager for act two.”
Contador admitted his knee “bothered me a little” at the start of Friday’s stage but improved as it went on.
And he hinted that he could be back to his attacking best on the climb to Beille.
“I believe tomorrow’s stage may be perfect for taking time if I’m OK,” he said.
“Plateau de Beille is such a hard climb. I clearly remember the climb from 2007. But the stage is not only the final climb. From the beginning of the stage there are mountains so I will have to see how I feel.”
He added: “The Schleck brothers have to attack. Their situation is quite complicated because yesterday (Thursday) they wasted a chance to drop a rider like Evans.
“(He is) a very solid rider, very strong in the mountains and on the time trial. No doubt they will have to move again.”