by Justin Davis
MARTIGNY, Switzerland, July 20, 2009 (AFP) – Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck is unequivocal about the only way to beat yellow jersey rival Alberto Contador on the Tour de France, and that is to attack.
Contador, the 2007 champion, took command of the race in style on Sunday when he won the first part of an alpine trilogy to leave Astana teammate Lance Armstrong in second place overall at 1min 37secs.
Schleck is fifth overall at a significant 2:26 adrift, but his Saxo Bank team appear not to have had their final say.
“We will continue to attack Astana and try to give Alberto Contador some sleepless nights,” declared Saxo Bank team chief Bjarne Riis, the race winner in 1996, on Monday.
Whether they will resume hostilities on Tuesday’s 16th stage from Martigny to Bourg Saint Maurice remains to be seen.
Although Wednesday’s 17th stage, a day before the race’s final time trial, is likely to be more decisive as there will be few opportunities left for Schleck, and his fellow challengers, to claw back lost time.
At only 159km long the 16th stage is relatively short although two major climbs provide plenty of scope for opportunity.
The climbing starts almost immediately and although the first 18km of the 24.4km climb to the summit of the ‘hors categorie’ (unclassified) Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard is not too difficult, the steeper gradients on the remainder may give ideas to some.
A 35km descent through Italian territory ensues, before the gradual climb towards the foot of the second climb, the category one-rated Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard, entices the favorites with 22.6km of climbing.
Once at the summit, the peloton will be back in French territory. From there, it’s a 31km descent into Bourg Saint Maurice.
On Sunday Schleck was the only rider from a small leading group to try and counter-attack Contador as the Spaniard soared to stage victory and into the yellow jersey.
Despite coming in 43secs behind, Schleck remains defiant.
“We will try until we die,” said Schleck.
“He took 43 secs on me, but I feel very good. Tomorrow (Monday) is a rest day, then we start attacking again.
“That wasn’t a great mountain stage, once we get the accumulation of several climbs, that when we’ll see big differences, it will be an interesting last week.”