Schleck resorts to mind games

TOUR DE FRANCE leader Andy Schleck believes he fared better in the latest battle with nearest rival Alberto Contador yesterday as the race entered the Pyrenees.

Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale) won the 184.5-kilometre 14th stage from Revel to Ax-3-Domaines, but all eyes were trained on Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) and Contador (Astana) — last year’s runner-up and winner, respectively.

Schleck kept a 31-second advantage over Contador, with Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) third overall, two minutes behind the Spaniard having trimmed 14 seconds off the deficit yesterday.

Yesterday’s stage featured two key climbs and was expected to be a showdown between Schleck and Contador, but the duo played a game of cat and mouse, dancing up the final ascent to the finish and ignoring events around them.

However, with today’s 187.5km 15th stage from Pamiers to Bagneres-de-Luchon featuring the Tour’s third hors categorie climb and two ascents of the fabled Col du Tourmalet (tomorrow and Thursday) to come, there are sure to be more twists and turns in the yellow jersey duel.

“Today he couldn’t drop me and that gives me confidence,” said Schleck. “I was never on the point of being dropped. I felt really good today.

“I had to play the game today. We played poker today. I will attack when the time is right and I’m sure that tomorrow’s stage will be different.”

Schleck, who believes he needs a 90-second advantage over Contador ahead of the penultimate day’s 52km time-trial, added: “I am relaxed, of course, but it’s not easy. I’ve got a lot of pressure on my shoulders.

“I won’t break down. I can handle it — pressure motivates me — but it’s not easy. I want to win this Tour.”

France’s Christophe Riblon took advantage of a tactical bluff by the favourites to steal the laurels yesterday.

Riblon had been part of a nine-man break that went early in the 184.5-km ride, and crossed the line on his own in the ski resort of Ax 3-Domaines.

Nicholas Roche had a superb weekend and looks to be showing no ill-effects of a gruelling two weeks.

The Ag2R La Mondiale rider claimed another top 20 finish, this time rolling in a solid 18th place on what was a very demanding day in the mountains from Revel to Domaines.

The Dubliner crossed the line two minutes and 27 seconds behind his victorious team-mate for the team’s first stage win of this year’s Tour.

Roche lies 14th overall, 8 minutes three seconds behind Schleck.

On Saturday Roche when he launched an audacious bid for a stage win on Saturday’s the mountainous stage 13 trek from Rodez to Revel.

But he and fellow attackers Damiano Cunego, Carlos Barredo and Alessandro Ballan were swept up by the bunch and the Dubliner ended up coming in 30th place.

* Lance Armstrong dismissed as “nonsense” a claim by Greg LeMond the seven-time Tour de France champ tried to pay someone $300,000 to say LeMond used a banned drug.

LeMond, a three-time Tour de France champion, told German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung’s weekend issue that Armstrong tried to implicate him “by all means” in a scandal involving performance enhancer EPO. LeMond refused to reveal the identity of the person who allegedly offered money by Armstrong, saying he still works in cycling.

Armstrong dismissed the accusation.

“That’s absolutely nonsense — $300,000?” Armstrong said.

According to a report on Friday in New York’s Daily News, LeMond has been served with a grand jury subpoena as part of a federal investigation of possible fraud and doping charges against Armstrong and his associates. The investigation was spurred by accusations by Floyd Landis, a former teammate of Armstrong’s on the US Postal team. Armstrong denied those allegations.

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