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Contador marks turf in Tour battle with Schleck

Contador marks turf in Tour battle with Schleck

Andy Schleck has been doing all the bragging about dethroning defending champion Alberto Contador at the Tour de France, but Contador did his talking when it counted with a punishing attack on Friday's 12th stage.
The two-time Tour champion from Spain dropped Schleck on a short and steep climb at the end of the long and sinewy route from Bourg-de-Peage to Mende.
In doing so, Contador clawed back 10 seconds on Schleck's overall lead, which is now just 31 seconds with four grueling climbs in the Pyrenees and a long time trial still ahead.
"I know Andy is really ambitious, but I saw he wasn't doing anything so I decided to go," Contador said after finishing the stage in second place behind his countryman Joaquin Rodriguez. "It's an important psychological blow."
Contador sent out a signal of intent, even though he felt he could have done even better.
"I attacked too late, and I didn't know what state Andy was in. I was able to get a few seconds ... it shows I am in form," Contador said. "It's always good to reduce the deficit, but it would've been better to get more."
Schleck, however, was relieved that the damage was not more severe.
"I'm happy I lost only 10 seconds in the end," Schleck said. "I take my hat off to the work my team did today. They rode very well. It was very hard today."
Rodriguez won Friday's 210-5 kilometer (131-mile) hilly ride in 4 hours, 58 minutes, 26 seconds, but it was his countryman Contador _ finishing second in the same time _ who stole the show.
The 25-year Schleck had spoken confidently recently of how he saw a waning Contador, speculating that the mountain ace was losing his touch.
With one acceleration up Cote de la Croix-Neuve, Contador showed up Schleck's talk for just what it was: bravado.
"I hope today is not the last day I'm in the yellow jersey," Schleck said modestly after the stage _ a far cry from Monday's rest day when he insisted that the 27-year-old Contador was more vulnerable than last year.
There was about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) left to go when Contador did his trademark attack, elegantly rising up on his saddle, smoothly turning his pedals and hitting the slope with such blistering velocity that it looked easy.
"I was not so surprised I couldn't stay with him in this climb," Schleck conceded.
Schleck is more confident that he can stick with Contador on the much longer mountain stages in the Pyrenees, rather than trying to stay with him on a short but brutal attack like Friday's.
"I don't like this climb, it doesn't fit me," Schleck said. "You have to be explosive _ not right for the kind of rider that I am."
Contador is likely to try and attack Schleck again in the first Pyrenean climb on Sunday, and the Luxembourg rider is prepared for it.
"I'm nervous, and he's nervous too. I think the first stage of the Pyrenees could be the difficult one," Schleck said.
As Schleck tired on the Croix-Neuve pass, Contador swerved past him and his Astana teammate Alexandre Vinokourov _ who was also contesting the stage win _ and finished four seconds clear of the Kazakh rider.
Schleck finished fifth in a small group that included Jurgen Van Den Broeck of Belgium, Samuel Sanchez of Spain, Lance Armstrong's RadioShack teammate Andreas Kloeden of Germany and Denis Menchov of Russia.
Sanchez kept hold of third place, 2:45 behind Schleck, and maintained a lead of 13 seconds ahead of Menchov, who is fourth.
Rodriguez looked back and smiled wrily at Contador as he crossed the finish line.
"I knew (I had) to anticipate," Rodriguez said. "I did it perfectly. I knew I'd be able to resist Alberto."
Rodriguez said he had ridden well in the past, but "I just needed to win in the best race in the world."
The finish was destined for drama, even after days of unbearable heat.
Vinokourov and three other breakaway riders were the first at the foot of the Croix-Neuve. At first he and Belarus rider Vasil Kiryienka slugged it out, then Vinokourov forged ahead.
"When I saw there was 10 to 15 riders going I knew it was the right move," Vinokourov said.
Vinokourov is riding in his first Tour after serving out a doping ban. The Kazakh rider was kicked out of the 2007 Tour for blood doping.
Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, who is out of contention in his final Tour, lost time to the leader for a third straight day _ crossing in 57th place, 3:35 back. He's 32nd overall, 21:16 behind Schleck.
Meanwhile, sprint specialist Tyler Farrar of the Garmin-Transitions team dropped out of the race, after riding with a broken left wrist since crashing in Stage 2.
"He's (been) in a world of pain," Garmin's sporting director Matt White said. "He's been racing with a fracture in his wrist and was in a lot of pain."
Saturday's 13th stage takes riders along 196 kilometers from Rodez to Revel.
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Associated Press Writer Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-03-03 05:11 GMT+08:00