It's between Alberto and I, Andy Schleck Says
Andy Schleck, Alberto Contador sit at the top of the overall standings in the Tour de France 2010.
With Cadel Evans now out of the picture, Alberto Contador has only one rider to worry about on the Tour de France: Andy Schleck.
The defending champion lies second in the overall standings, 41 seconds behind Schleck, the only one able to compete with the Spaniard. But the Luxembourg rider is likely to lose some ground in the final time trial, a 52-km effort that suits Contador.
"My rival is Andy. I now have to stay in his wheel," Contador told reporters after dominating all his rivals apart from Schleck in Tuesday's ninth stage.
Schleck could not agree more.
"Now it's between Alberto and me. There is only one rider to focus on, it's Contador," the Saxo Bank rider told a news conference.
Contador and Schleck finished sixth and seventh respectively on Tuesday, with American Levi Leipheimer, Dutchman Robert Gesink and Russian Denis Menchov over two minutes behind.
Italy's Ivan Basso and Czech Roman Kreuziger were almost three minutes off the pace.
All were dropped in the punishing ascent to the Col de la Madeleine, a 25.5-km climb at an average gradient of 6.2 percent following Astana's perfect team work.
"It was a good day, obviously. We made big differences, more than we expected," Contador explained after a quick shower in his team's bus.
"In the Col de la Madeleine, everybody gave everything. We saw that Cadel Evans was isolated," Astana manager Yvon Sanquer told Reuters.
Evans is now 18th overall, seven minutes 47 seconds off the pace.
"We had enough riders to increase the pace and make it harder for our rivals as some of them were showing signs of weakness," Sanquer added.
Italian Paolo Tiralongo and Spain's Daniel Navarro swapped at the front of the favourites' group until Contador and Schleck found themselves alone up front.
Astana also had Alexandre Vinokourov sent chasing a group of breakaway riders, forcing the other teams to work hard to try and catch the Kazakh.
"There was a part of instinct (in these moves) and a part of calculation," said Sanquer.
With the common interest of eliminating their rivals, Schleck and Contador then worked together to gain more time.
"There were four little attacks but then we had an agreement," said Contador.
After only nine stages and still the Pyrenees to come, third-placed Samuel Sanchez is already trailing Schleck by 2:45.
Menchov is fourth, 2:58 off the pace, and Leipheimer lies sixth, 3:59 behind.
Giro champion Basso, Kreuziger, 2008 Tour winner Carlos Sastre and Briton Bradley Wiggins all lie more than five minutes adrift.
"It's gonna be a very tough contest (between Contador and Schleck). They collaborated today but the time will come when there will be no gifts," said Sanquer.