MUR-DE-BRETAGNE, France (AFP) — Tour de France contender Andy Schleck brushed off losing eight seconds to yellow jersey rival Alberto Contador on Tuesday as the Spaniard provided drama on a thrilling finish to stage 4.
Saxo Bank climbing specialist Contador came close to causing a sensation when he pulled to the front in the steep 2km climb leading to the stage finish at Mur de Bretagne.
Although ultimately beaten to the win by impressive Australian Cadel Evans, Contador left Schleck and a few other yellow jersey rivals in his wake to chip away at his surprise deficit.
Evans, a former two-time runner-up on the race, is also a contender this year and both he and Contador finished six seconds ahead of Bradley Wiggins and Ivan Basso, with Schleck finishing 8 seconds off the pace.
With all the mountains stages in the Pyrenees and Alps still to come, Leopard-Trek rider Schleck was quick to calm any fears about his performance.
“Before the stage I was a bit worried because I know that short climbs like that don’t really suit me very well. I prefer longer climbs and I just don’t have the punch to sprint for a kilometer,” said Schleck.
“When they accelerated I was beginning to struggle and decided to just try and pace myself and limit my losses.
“Losing seven (eight) seconds isn’t good, but ….”
Contador has had a disastrous start to his yellow jersey defense, losing over a minute to his rivals in the opening stage when he got caught up in a crash and then 28 seconds on the second stage team time trial on Sunday.
Having started the third stage 1:38 behind Schleck, the Spaniard had a wry smile when asked if he was happy about cutting his deficit to 1:30.
“Eight seconds isn’t a lot compared to what I’ve already lost… but it’s good,” said Contador, who will be keen to close the gap significantly further before the first day in the high mountains on stage 12.
“I will continue to do my best but for me Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans are now more the favorites than me.”
While the high mountains stages will be the real battleground for Schleck, Evans and Contador, Schleck attempted to put Contador’s situation into perspective.
“It wasn’t a surprise for me” seeing him up there challenging for the win, said Schleck.
“He had bad luck on the first day, and on the second day he didn’t have the team needed to win the time trial.”