by Ryland James
VERBIER, Switzerland, July 19, 2009 (AFP) – Saxo Bank leader Andy Schleck insisted Sunday his team will “try until we die” to take the Tour de France’s yellow jersey off new holder Alberto Contador and his Astana team.
Contador dominated Sunday’s 15th stage on the first of three days in the Alps after leaving his yellow jersey rivals for dead on the 8.8km climb into the Swiss ski resort of Verbier.
Schleck, who claimed the white jersey for the highest-finishing rider aged
25 and under last year, was the only contender to counter-attack Contador and in the end his gutsy performance moved him up to fifth overall at 2:26.
The Luxemburger, a former runner-up on the Giro d’Italia, says he will now attack Contador at every opportunity.
“We will try until we die,” said Schleck, who insists Contador is beatable after the Spaniard suffered a dreaded bonk (loss of energy due to a lack of
food) in March’s Paris-Nice race which ultimately cost him the race.
“We saw in the Paris-Nice race that he is as strong, but then he lost it all and he can do that again here.”
He added: “Today we saw that Alberto was the strongest – he took off like a rocket and I couldn’t catch him.
“I tried to follow when he attacked, but I saw I wasn’t getting any closer.
“After that I tried to cut my losses and keep the rest behind me at a distance.
“But I think it’s only the beginning and there’s plenty of racing left.”
After Monday’s rest day, Schleck says his Saxo Bank team will be ready to work hard to erode the Spaniard’s lead on the more difficult stages 16 and 17.
“He took 45 secs on me, but I feel very good. Tomorrow is a rest day, then we start attacking again,” said Schleck.
“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.”
Saxo Bank team manager Bjarne Riis, the 1996 Tour winner, insisted Contador is still beatable despite his impressive display here which opened a gap of
1:37 between him and second-placed Astana teammate Lance Armstrong.
“Today, Contador was the strongest. From our point of view we rode the perfect race, but he was still stronger,” said Riis.
“But it was a good day, we saw Lance Armstrong fall down, which we expected, while Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre lost more time.
“Evans and Sastre have to do something in the next few stages and we have to work hard.
“But anything can still happen and Alberto Contador is not unbeatable.”