Schleck vs. Contador: Get Used to It
This is a rivalry that’s building and can only get better.
Over 21 days and some 2,200 miles, Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador tried to shake each other. They attacked. But neither could shake the other. One day, in a moment that will be debated forever, Contador attacked Schleck as the latter’s chain slipped. Still, Contador couldn’t shake him. Schleck attacked a couple days later on the ride up to the Col du Tourmalet, but he couldn’t shake Contador. Even in the time trial, which everyone had predicted would be dominated by Contador, he couldn’t shake Schleck.
For those who expected all-out fireworks, there might be some disappointment. But for anyone with a sense of the difficulties involved in riding this bike race around France for three weeks, this was as good as it gets, a battle set up during an early stage between two men who are almost perfectly matched. The climb up the Tourmalet, which pitted them head-to-head for six dizzying uphill miles, was as exciting a stage as I have ever seen in my seven years of Tourwatching. These two guys are going to be battling for the maillot jaune for many years to come.
Contador won his third yellow jersey, though he will have to live with the fact that his actions in that moment on Stage 15 will be interpreted by many fans as breaking an unwritten ethical rule in this tour. Contador perhaps erred in not slowing down and letting Schleck fix his chain. But like Schleck, I’m forgiving but willing to accept that a significant number of racing fans will hold this against Contador.
No matter. It was a spectacular race, as always. The first week was vicious and brutal, with the race taking more than its usual share of crashes and broken bones, highlighted by a day on cobblestones, and another with at least half the peleton on the ground at one time or another and the entire bunch (save stage winner Sylvain Chavanel) waiting for Schleck after a nasty looking smashup.
But after Stage 9, when Contador and Schleck looked at each other and bolted away from the pack and helped eliminate the others, it became a two-man show, and it was well worth the effort of watching them battle on the high slopes of the Pyrenees. They will return.