Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador buried the hatchet over Monday’s controversial chain-drop, but promise to fight to the death up the Col du Tourmalet on Thursday.
Schleck and Contador hugged each other behind the podium presentation following the close of Tuesday’s stage and say that their friendship is intact despite the hubbub of Contador’s actions on the Port de Balès.
“(Alberto) came to apologize to me, that means a lot,” said Schleck, who wears the best young rider’s white jersey. “That shows he’s a champion and that he has character.”
Contador was roundly criticized for attacking Schleck when the yellow jersey dropped his chain about 3km from the Balès summit. By the time Schleck remounted his chain and chased over the summit, he lost all hope of defending the yellow jersey.
Contador was booed again Tuesday in Pau when he was awarded the yellow jersey, but Schleck called out to fans to respect the Tour race leader.
“I want to tell the public that they should not whistle (boo) at him. He’s a great rider and does not deserve that,” Schleck continued. “I shouldn’t complain. If Alberto hadn’t waited for me on the second stage (to Spa) where I crashed, I wouldn’t have been in position to fight for this yellow jersey right now.”
Schleck and Contador are rare in that they are good friends off the bike but bitter rivals during the race. Many wondered if Contador’s actions in Monday’s decisive stage would spell doom to their friendship.
Saxo Bank boss Bjarne Riis said that it’s good for cycling that Schleck and Contador get along so well, something that’s in sharp contrast of cycling history that’s often seen Tour rivals become bitter enemies both on and off the bike.
“Why do they have to scream at each other? If they can do it on the bike, that’s enough,” Riis said. “It’s good that they can be competitors on the bike and good comrades off the bike. That’s human. That’s something that’s good for the sport.”
Late Monday evening, Contador posted a video message on his personal YouTube page apologizing for not allowing Schleck a chance to regain contact with the hot end of the action.
“I made a video because I wanted to, not because I was obligated. I didn’t feel good about what happened (Monday), that’s not like me,” Contador said Tuesday. “We have a deep friendship and I don’t want our relationship to be marked by what happened. We spoke about it and it’s all resolved. We won’t let what happened get between our friendship.”
Whether or not their friendship can endure the controversy of Monday remains to be seen, but Thursday’s showdown on the Tourmalet promises to see some bitter attacks by the best climbers of their generation.
Schleck needs to take time on Contador if he has any hope of winning the 2010 Tour, but somewhat surprisingly, Schleck said he might only need “one minute” going into the Bordeaux final TT.
“I feel good. There’s a good chance I can take (the yellow jersey) back,” Schleck said. “(Thursday) is all or nothing. Either I win the Tour that day or I lose a lot. I need one minute. I feel good.”
Contador, meanwhile, hedged on putting an exact amount of time on an advantage he’d want to carry into the final time trial. Eight seconds is not enough, according to Contador.
“I have a lot of respect for (the Tourmalet). There can be some big differences, more so than even in the final time trial,” he said. “The more time I have (before the time trial), the better.”