Schleck holds lead as Riblon takes 14th stage

AX 3-DOMAINES, France, (Reuters) – The battle for  Tour de France victory took a twisted turn in Ax 3-Domaines yesterday when yellow jersey holder Andy Schleck and defending  champion Alberto Contador played mind games in the final climb.

The day’s honours in the 184.5-km 14th stage went to France’s Christophe Riblon, the last survivor of an early  breakaway.

But second and third place, 54 seconds behind Riblon, went  to Russia’s Denis Menchov and Spain’s Samuel Sanchez, the two  riders most likely to pose a threat to Schleck and Contador for  final victory.
Luxembourg’s Schleck and twice champion Contador dropped 14  seconds in the finale because neither would lead the way towards  the finish line.

“If I have to play poker in the end, I’ll play poker. I felt  really good today but I could afford to lose time on Menchov and  Sanchez. I don’t consider them as Tour contenders,” Schleck told  reporters.

“I did not want to pass Alberto and lose seconds like in the  Mende stage,” Schleck said, explaining his fear of being  attacked by Contador. “I had to play games today.

“I want to win this. I’ve got to be smart”, he added.

First and second in last year’s Tour, Contador and Schleck  were seen playing hide and seek and almost stopping in the final  ascent like sprinters waiting to surge on a cycling track.


“We were content with controlling each other and in the end  we decided to work together to limit the damage with Menchov and  Sanchez. We could not afford to let them take too much time,”  Spaniard Contador said.

It remains to be seen whether the pair’s approach was the  smart one as it might give ideas to their rivals in the next  three stages in the Pyrenees.

“The tactic for today was to stay in Contador’s wheel but  tomorrow will be another day as I need to take more time off him  in the future,” said Schleck about today’s 187.5-km 15th stage  to Bagneres de Luchon, which looks easier on paper.

His 31 seconds edge over Contador appears a little slim  ahead of the final 52-km individual time trial to Pauillac on  the penultimate day of the race.

The bluff had started in the hardest hill of the day, the  Port de Pailheres, 30 km from the finish.