The battle for Tour de France took a twisted turn in Ax 3-Domaines on Sunday when yellow jersey holder Andy Schleck and defending champion Alberto Contador played mind games in the final climb.
The days honours in the 184.5-km 14th stage went to Frances Christophe Riblon,the last survivor of an early breakaway. But second and third places,54 seconds behind Riblon,went to Russias Denis Menchov and Spains Samuel Sanchez,the two riders most likely to pose a threat to Schleck and Contador for final victory.
Luxembourgs 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,Ill play poker. I felt really good today but I could afford to lose time on Menchov and Sanchez. I dont 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. Ive got to be smart, he added.
First and second in last years 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, Contador said.
The bluff had started in the hardest hill of the day,the Port de Pailheres,30 km from the finish.