Tour de France: Schleck calm over Contador contest

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The Independent Online

Andy Schleck appeared calm and relaxed ahead of his yellow jersey showdown with Alberto Contador as the duo prepare to race to the summit of the Col du Tourmalet in stage 17 of the Tour de France tomorrow.

Two-time champion Contador (Astana) is currently in possession of the Tour leader's maillot jaune with an eight-second advantage over Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) ahead of tomorrow's 174-kilometre stage from Pau to the Col du Tourmalet.



The Spaniard claimed the race lead by taking advantage of his rival's mechanical problem - against etiquette in cycling - on Monday's 15th stage to Bagneres-de-Luchon, overcoming a 31-second deficit by attacking at the moment Schleck's chain slipped on the hors categorie (beyond category) Port de Bales.



The duo, who finished first and second in the 2009 Tour and are friends, are staying in the same hotel in Pau on today's rest day, while their reconnaissance trips to the Col du Tourmalet took place on the same day earlier this year as the pair ascended the Pyrenean peak from alternative sides.



A highly-eventful Tour is poised for a dramatic conclusion - one Schleck hopes will end in his favour.



"I'm ready for tomorrow and I'm pretty sure I will have a good race," said Schleck.



"It is definitely the highlight of this year's Tour."



When asked what he would do, should Contador's chain slip tomorrow, Schleck remained diplomatic.



Team Saxo Bank owner Bjarne Riis, the winner of the 1996 Tour, quipped "he wouldn't see it" - something Contador claimed after Monday's stage.



However, Schleck said: "It won't happen. The Tour won't be decided because of a chain slipping or not.



"I still haven't spoken my last word in this Tour. That day I was angry, now I'm not angry - I'm just really motivated for tomorrow and I hope I can get it (the yellow jersey) on for Paris."



Schleck is gearing up for a big day on the 18.6km hors categorie Col du Tourmalet - a peak the peloton climbed from the reverse side yesterday.



Now they will finish at the top, with Schleck relishing the challenge which awaits.



"I haven't given everything yet, that's what gives me confidence," said the 25-year-old.



"When I dropped the chain, the moment I was back on the bike I had 50 seconds and at the top I only had a 15-second deficit - I bridged a pretty good gap there."



The fabled Col du Tourmalet represents Schleck's final opportunity to overtake Contador.



The Luxembourg rider said: "Right now the Tour is coming to an end and we're running out of time so I cannot wait until he has a bad day.



"There is only one chance left and that's tomorrow.



"I've got to try everything tomorrow because I want to win this. There's only one way and that's climbing the Tourmalet."



Wet weather is forecast for tomorrow's stage, but Schleck is not concerned.



"Tourmalet is Tourmalet, in sunshine or in rain," he said.



"I like Tourmalet because it's steady, it's hard and if you're not a climber you don't go up there.



"I've always said I believe that the guy who has the yellow tomorrow will be in yellow in Paris and I still believe that."



However vital tomorrow's stage is, Schleck knows Saturday's 52km time trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac is also crucial.



Schleck concedes Contador is better against the clock, but the Luxembourg rider insists he is much improved - even since the 8.9km prologue in Rotterdam where he finished 122nd, 42 seconds and 116 places behind the Spaniard.



"In Rotterdam I was really bad but now with three weeks' racing behind us it's a different story," said Schleck.



"I know I need to be in yellow for the start ramp for the time-trial to have a chance to win this Tour.



"If I don't start in yellow, I won't beat Alberto. But I cannot tell you how much (time) I need."



Schleck will aim to reclaim the maillot jaune tomorrow and then defend it on Saturday.



He believes having the yellow jersey on his back will help him to perform and keep it until Paris.



"I know when I have the jersey I'll be really, really motivated and focused and I'm pretty sure I will do a good time trial," said Schleck.



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