Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck will face their toughest battles at the Tour de France in two days time, but they still decided to test each other in Mende today.
Contador used the steep slopes of the Croix Neuve climb in Mende to ride away from Schleck and move 10 seconds closer to Schleck's overall lead. Some argued it was petty, fighting for such small change when the big money comes with the first stage Sunday, but Contador disagreed.
He said, "It's an important psychological blow."
Contador had the advantage of having Astana team-mate Alexander Vinokourov in an early escape and having won on the climb two other times in the Paris-Nice stage race. Vinokourov's presence meant Contador could follow Schleck on the 3.1-kilometre climb to the finish on the airstrip.
"I could see he [Schleck] was a little weak," continued Contador, "and I decided to go."
Schleck responded, "I was not surprised I could not stay with him."
He excels in the high-mountains. He won the mountain stage to Morzine-Avoriaz Sunday and rode clear of his rivals with Contador Tuesday. They put a big gap into their classification rivals and created what will likely be a two-man battle for the final overall.
For Schleck to win the classification, though, he must gain a bigger gap on Contador before the final time trial. He is convinced the Pyrenees is the place to do that.
"I know my best days will come in the Pyrenees. I have prepared to race there, to peak there. He [Contador] cannot count on me being tired," added Schleck.
"It will be a duel in the Pyrenees - Alberto and I. He is nervous and I am nervous because I need to gain more time."
Schleck lost 1'45" in time in last year's final time trial of 40.5 kilometres. This year's time trial is 52 kilometres, from Bordeaux to Pauillac.
Tour de France 2010: Latest news
Renshaw disqualification overshadows Cavendish's win
Charly Wegelius pulls out of Tour
Did Armstrong own a stake in Tailwind Sports, or not?
Cavendish in a 'must win' situation for Tour's green jersey
Millar rides through pain barrier to make time cut
Roche alongside Tour's top men ahead of Pyrenees
Wiggins to aim for Tour de France stage win?
Dan Lloyd battles on in Tour despite groin strain
Bradley Wiggins: Tour rest day conference
Evans faces rough ride in yellow
Riis secures replacement sponsor but Shleck in doubt
Tour de France 2010: rest day review (July 12)
Armstrong's Tour de France dream ends
Sky's objective clear ahead of Tour's high mountains
The Feed Zone (July 10): Tour de France news and views
Tour de France 2010: Stage reports
Stage 12: Rodriguez wins as Contador attacks
Stage 11: Cavendish bags third stage win but lead out man kicked out of Tour
Stage 10: Cavendish bags third stage win but his lead-out man is kicked out of race
Stage 10: Paulinho claims narrow stage victory on Bastille day
Stage nine: Casar wins stage as Schleck and Contador go head-to-head
Stage seven: Chavanel wins stage and takes overall as Thomas drops out of Tour's white
Stage six: Cavendish makes it two as Tour hots up
Stage five: Cavendish wins his first stage of Tour
Stage four: Petacchi wins into Reims
Stage three: Hushovd takes dramatic win; Thomas second on stage and GC
Stage three live coverage: As it happened
Stage two: Comeback man Chavanel takes victory in Spa
Stage one: Petacchi wins in Brussels as bunch left in tatters
Prologue: Cancellara pips Martin to win
Tour de France 2010: Photos
Stage 11 photo gallery
Stage 10 photo gallery
Stage nine photo gallery
Stage eight photo gallery
Tour 2010 wallpaper
Stage seven photo gallery
Stage six photo gallery
Stage five photo gallery
Stage four photo gallery
Stage three photo gallery
Stage two photo gallery
Stage one gallery
Prologue photo gallery
Tour de France 2010: Videos
Stage 11 video highlights
Stage 10 video highlights
Stage nine video highlights
Stage eight video highlights
Stage seven video highlights
Stage six video highlights
Stage five video highlights
Stage four video highlights
Stage three video highlights
Stage two video highlights
Stage one video highlights
Prologue video highlights
Tour de France 2010: Race guide
Tour de France 2010: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
Official start list, with race numbers
Brits at the Tour 2010
Tout team guide
Tour jerseys: What they are and what they mean
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Wiggins
Tour de France 2010: Pictures
Tour team presentation, Rotterdam
Tour teams take to the cobbles: Photo special
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