Close race at Tour de France

Defending champion Alberto Contador is trying to catch race leader Andy Schleck.

    Andy Schleck starts to breakaway ahead of Alberto Contador heading into the 14th stage [Reuters]

    Alberto Contador has work to do to overhaul race leader Andy Schleck but the defending Tour de France champion refuses to panic because he can still play his wildcard: the Pyrenees.

    Schleck, the Luxembourg rider who finished runner-up to Contador last year, takes a 31-second advantage over the Spaniard into Sunday's 14th stage.

    But that's where the fun might end for Schleck.

    Sunday's effort finishes in Ax 3 Domaines, the kind of steep, brutal Pyrenean terrain that Contador loves.

    Three more stages in the mountains in four days, with a rest day on Wednesday, give Contador reason to believe the yellow jersey is still well within his reach.

    All he has to guard against is making unnecessary mistakes.

    "The biggest danger in the Pyrenees is to have a bad day," he said.

    He is in an ideal position heading into the Pyrenees, as he will not have to make the first move.

    "I will not take more chances than I need," he said.

    Contador, the two-time Tour winner, showed his appetite for a climb on Friday with a trademark attack in a short ascent averaging a 10.1 per cent gradient.

    The 27-year-old Astana rider also knows he fares much better in time trials than Schleck.

    The penultimate stage of the Tour, on July 24, is a 52-km solo effort against the clock from Bordeaux to Pauillac.

    "I have the advantage of the time trial if I need to get some time back," Contador added.

    On Sunday, the Tour travels 184.5 kilometres from Revel to Ax 3 Domaines.

    There is a 15.5-km ascent at an average gradient of 7.9 percent up to Port de Pailheres and, immediately after the descent, a 7.8-km climb to the finish at 8.2 percent.

    Contador said: "The first pass is very hard, Pailheres, with huge percentages and a fast descent before the climb to Ax Trois Domaines, short but tough.

    The time differences will be very important."

    The toughest part will come, however, in the last of four Pyrenean stages, on Thursday, with a finish at the Col du Tourmalet after an 18.6-km climb at an average gradient of 7.5 per cent.

    "This is my favourite pass in France," Contador told Reuters before the Tour.

    The race finishes in Paris on July 25.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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