SUPER-BESSE, France (AFP) ─ Leopard-Trek’s Andy Schleck gave a glimpse of his future intentions by sticking like glue to reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador on the first really hilly stage Saturday.
A year after losing the yellow jersey by only 39 seconds, Luxembourg’s two-time runner-up intends not to let the Spaniard out of his sight.
“We knew Contador was going to try and attack so I was on his wheel straight away,” Schleck said after the 189km eighth stage from Aigurande to Super-Besse, the first of two this weekend in the Massif Central.
Despite an entertaining finale, with Schleck, Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) and Australian contender Cadel Evans (BMC) producing short bursts of speed to test each other neither produced a telling attack on the final 1.5km climb to the uphill finish.
Portuguese Alberto Rui Costa (Movistar) took the stage win 12secs ahead of Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), with Evans, another two-time runner-up, leading the favorites over the line three seconds later.
Evans is still only one second off the yellow jersey of Norwegian Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo), with Schleck sixth at 12 and Contador 20th at 1:42 having lost over a minute to his rivals in a crash on stage one.
That could all change by the end of next week when the race prepares for three tough days in the Pyrenees mountains.
Schleck added: “We’re still well placed in the general classification, but today there were no major selections.
“We’ll get to the Pyrenees soon. After Luz-Ardiden (on stage 12) and the Plateau de Beille (stage 14) we’ll have something to say.”
Although hilly, the climbs on Saturday’s stage were not long enough for Contador, or any other yellow jersey challenger, to make a major time difference.
Bjarne Riis, the manager of Contador’s Saxo Bank team, admitted: “We didn’t see the big battle among the overall favorites and we didn’t really expect that either on this short uphill finish.
“Richie (Porte) and Chris (Anker Sorensen) were up front to set a high pace on the final part of the stage and we’re just happy that everything went as we had planned.”
Sunday’s ninth stage — held over 208km between Issoire and Saint-Flour — looks tougher on paper although it could be more of the same.
But while the stage victory could go to another non-contender for the race’s big prize, it should give the favourites a chance to continue playing mind games.
Frank Schleck, Andy’s older brother and considered an outside yellow jersey bet, said: “We had a great stage as a team considering the tough weather conditions and a really difficult descent.
“In the last kilometers it was a bit of a psychological war between the leaders. We expected Contador to attack and we didn’t want to give away any time cheaply.
“Without boasting, I think our team has the most cohesion and is the best equipped of the peloton.”