Brothers Fränk and Andy Schleck are within striking distance of the Tour de France's overall lead with the high-mountain looming on the horizon. One day after Brit Bradley Wiggins abandoned the race, the Schlecks rode to Super Besse as race favourites.
"To be honest, it's a mental game right now," said Fränk after today's eighth leg. "So far, so good."
Fränk and younger brother Andy compose a favourites' group - including Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) and Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) - within 15 seconds of leader Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo). Hushovd is a big sprinter and will likely lose the yellow jersey the first day in the Pyrenean mountains on Thursday.
Andy Schleck finished the Tour de France second overall the last two years behind Spain's Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard). He and his brother have both enjoyed spells in the leader's yellow jersey.
Contador is on the defensive after losing time due to a crash on day one. A fan caused Maxim Iglinsky (Astana) to crash, which held up many other cyclists, including Contador. He lost 1-20 minutes after only 191.5 kilometres of racing and now trails the favourites' group by 1-30 minutes.
On the roads to Super Besse, at 1275 metres in France's Massif Central, Contador tried to regain time. He sent team-mate Chris Anker Sørensen ahead and then attacked himself in the last kilometre. The Schleck brothers, though, remained glued to Contador's wheel to avoid losing time.
"He has a good punch when he goes. I didn't want to loss stupid seconds," Andy said.
"It's not surprising Contador tried to attack, he needs time and needs to take every opportunity. I think he's nervous."
Andy explained that after the race's first week, Australian Evans and Belgian Jurgen Van den Broeck (OmegaPharma-Lotto) impressed him the most. He also noted his brother, whom he said will be his biggest rival for the overall win.
Classification of top five race favourites
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing)
Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek) 3"
Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) 9"
Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) 11"
Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) 12"
Dane Jakob Fuglsang strengthens Leopard-Trek's advantage. He's fifth overall, just ahead of Andy Schleck, and 11 seconds behind Evans. It's unlikely he'll win the race overall on July 24 in Paris, but he gives Luxembourg's new team an extra card to play in the coming two weeks.
"You can never have too much time, though," the team's general manager, Nygaard told Cycling Weekly. "I am also glad we have three guys up there that can be a great advantage."
The Tour's remaining cyclists will face the first high-mountain stage to Luz-Ardiden on Thursday. It's one of six this year, the first three are in the Pyrenees and the final three are in the Alps.
Tour de France 2011: Related links
Tour de France 2011: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
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