LES HERBIERS, France — Two-time runner-up Andy Schleck has extra incentive to stop Alberto Contador winning his third straight Tour de France, having lost last year’s race to the Spaniard.
Contador dropped Schleck on a steep uphill climb in the Pyrenees last summer after the Luxembourg rider’s chain came off as he was preparing to attack Contador, who ignored perceived cycling etiquette by failing to wait for his rival.
Contador gained a 39-second advantage over Schleck, and it would become his exact margin of overall victory a few days later on the Champs Elysees.
Schleck said he forgave Contador for the move, but added he will never “forget it.”
“I would not have done this,” Schleck told L’Equipe this week. “A great champion doesn’t do things like this. I really was disappointed by his attitude that day.”
Before the Tour start on Saturday in the Vendee region of western France, Schleck toned down his stance, saying it’s time to turn the page.
“What happened last year is now over,” said Schleck, when asked if he was still holding a grudge. “I’m focusing on this year’s Tour and hopefully things will go in the right direction.”
While many fans and riders have questioned Contador’s presence in this year’s race following his positive test for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour, Schleck is glad to have another chance to beat Contador.
“I’m looking forward to beating him on the road, I want this challenge, I want this head-to-head,” said the 26-year-old Schleck.
In his quest for a first Grand Tour title, Schleck is counting on the support of his strong Leopard-Trek team, which notably features his brother Frank He hopes the French crowd’s cheers will help him reach Paris in yellow.
After last year’s chain debacle, French fans clearly turned their back on Contador to support Schleck. Contador, who could be stripped of all of his titles dating to July 2010 if the Court of Arbitration for Sport rules against him in August, was booed and jeered by the public at the team presentation on Thursday.
“It was not really nice to Alberto,” said Schleck, who was loudly cheered by fans. “It’s obvious that getting the crowd support is an extra motivation. I think Alberto doesn’t need the fans’ help to get motivated. But I need it, I like it, and it’s maybe going to help me.”
This year’s course features only one individual time trial, scheduled in Grenoble on the eve of the race finish, and likely favors Schleck.
“The route is fitting me, because there is not too many time trials,” Schleck said. “This is an advantage. But Alberto also showed the previous years and during the Giro that he is at ease in the mountains.”
Contador, who prepared for the Tour with a win in the Giro d’Italia in May, is bemoaning the lack of time trial miles.
“I don’t think this course is the best for me. On the contrary, I would like to have more time trials,” he said. “I am a good rider in the time trials, so for me there’s a possibility to make a gap with climbers. In 2007, there were about 120 kilometers time trial, for me it was a good thing.”
The Tour is likely to be decided during a torrid third week of racing in the Alps, with the daunting Col du Galibier climbed twice before a stage finish at the famed Alpe d’Huez ski resort and its 21 hairpin bends. The course includes a total of 23 mountain passes in the Alps, Pyrenees and Massif Central.
Last year, Schleck was deprived of the help of his brother Frank in the mountains after he dropped out early from the race following a bad crash on cobblestones.
“Frank’s fall last year was a real setback,” Schleck said. “The war with Alberto started the day after, while other riders were just thinking about a third-place finish. Should Frank had been able to stay with me until the end, it could have been a different Tour, especially in the mountains.”
Although he will ride with a sword of Damocles over his head and despite the fans’ acrimony, three-time champion Contador — who won the first of his three Tours in 2007 — is unfazed.
If the International Cycling Union and World Anti-Doping Agency win their appeal against the Spanish federation’s decision to clear Contador, the former Lance Armstrong teammate will face the prospect of losing his 2010 title.
“If I think they can take the victory from me? I am confident in the decision that will be taken after the Tour. I think it would be completely ridiculous,” Contador said. “From the beginning of the season, I am surely the most tested rider and winning almost every race I am taking part in.”
The Tour starts with a 118-mile, mainly flat road stage between Passage du Gois and Mont Des Alouettes. The slight uphill finish could favor one-day classics specialists.