Sunday, 18 July 2010

Contador and Schleck reach a stalemate as Riblon takes the stage victory

Like Grand-Masters Andy Schleck (SAX) and Alberto Contador (AST) played their game of chess, battling it out on the slopes of Ax 3 Domaine they tried to set up their winning moves; their poker faces etched on like the masks of ancient Greek theatre actors as they tested each other. Contador even appeared to come to a standstill as he egged his rival on. But their psychological warfare appeared to have come to nought, as neither of them gave the final push to go for broke, the time deficit at the end remaining the same as Riblon (ALM) took the victory; a lone survivor of an earlier 9 man breakaway.

The breakaway had orignially included Sky rider, Geraint Thomas, the current British National Champion, who along with 7 other brave riders was dropped as one by one they cracked on the Hors-Categorie climb of Port de Pailhères. On the tricky descent, Sastre (CTT) broke away to hunt the survivors down, but it wasn't long before the yellow jersey had surpassed him, a game of cat and mouse in mind. The Frenchman, Riblon took the stage victory 54 seconds ahead of Rabobank's Menchov and Euskatel's Sammy Sanchez who had done well to remain ahead of the two chess masters.

Bradley Wiggins finished in 36th place, almost 5 minutes down on the stage winner, Riblon, and admitted to journalists in language only fitting for Wiggo himself, that he was done. The former track supremo was not coy or candid in his admission, leaving everyone in no doubt that he no longer considered himself as having any chance of a podium position in Paris next Sunday.

Tonight Shleck remains in yellow and 31 seconds ahead of Contador but with another three days of mountains and mayhem, and a Time Trail around the corner to boot, Schleck may find his poker faced rival give him the Armstrong "Look" as he metaphorically snatches the jersey and goes.

Tomorrow is exactly 100 years to the day the Tour first entered the Pyranees and the course celebrates the centenary with a legendary stage that ends with a death-defying descent into Bagnères-de-Luchon. Will Schleck be able to leave Contador by the wayside here or will another breakaway rider be able to hold his own in the perilous passes of the Pyrenees?

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