CON­TA­DOR IN YEL­LOW AF­TER SNUB

Sch­leck stops to fix chain, but Con­ta­dor doesn’t yield to tour eti­quette, seizes lead

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Suzanne Hal­libur­ton

‘My belly is so full of anger right now. I’m go­ing to want to get my re­venge.’ Andy Sch­leck, for­mer over­all leader un­til Al­berto Con­ta­dor broke tour eti­quette and seized the lead

BAG­NERES-DE-LU­CHON, France — There was a smat­ter­ing of boos and whis­tles on Mon­day as Al­berto Con­ta­dor — the de­fend­ing Tour de France cham­pion — stepped onto the podium to ac­cept the leader’s yel­low jersey for the first time this month.

Con­ta­dor, who fin­ished sev­enth in Mon­day’s 15th stage, was able to erase what had been a 31-sec­ond deficit to pre­vi­ous over­all leader Andy Sch­leck. But he did so in a con­tro­ver­sial way, snub­bing an un­writ­ten rule of tour eti­quette that states no one attacks the yel­low jersey when that rider is in trou­ble.

With about two miles left in Mon­day’s fi­nal climb — a be­yond-cat­e­gory as­cent of the Port de Bales in the Pyre­nees — Sch­leck ac­cel­er­ated, and Con­ta­dor im­me­di­ately fol­lowed. But just as quickly, Sch­leck pulled up.

Sch­leck’s chain had got­ten caught as he tried to switch to a big­ger gear. He was forced to stop and fix the chain, which took him about 50 sec­onds.

Con­ta­dor, along with De­nis Men­chov and Sammy Sanchez, churned on, never paused as they crossed the top, then de­scended the 12 miles to the fin­ish.

“My belly is so full of anger right now,” Sch­leck said. “I’m Al­berto Con­ta­dor puts on the yel­low jersey of the leader af­ter the 15th stage of the Tour de France. Mon­day’s stage cov­ered 116.5 miles.

Con­tin­ued from C1 go­ing to want to get my re­venge.”

Con­ta­dor said after­ward that he was un­aware Sch­leck had a me­chan­i­cal prob­lem.

“I un­der­stand he is dis­ap­pointed,” said Con­ta­dor, a two-time cham­pion. “When it hap­pened, I was on the at­tack. What is im­por­tant is I gained time to­day. … The goal is still Paris.”

Sch­leck’s op­por­tu­nity for re­venge could come to­day, when the rid­ers en­counter the first of two Tour climbs this week of the Tour­malet, the most revered sum­mit in the Pyre­nees.

Con­ta­dor will be try­ing to pro­tect his eight-sec­ond lead over Sch­leck, who had led the race for the past week.

French fa­vorite Thomas Voeck­ler won Mon­day’s stage, but was sev­eral kilo­me­ters up the route when Sch­leck suf­fered his prob­lem.

Cy­cling is a tra­di­tion-rich sport. One long­time tra­di­tion is that no rider wants to ben­e­fit when the wearer of yel­low is in­jured or suf­fer­ing a prob­lem with his bike.

The last in­stance of rid­ers sig­nif­i­cantly slow­ing their pace came in 2003, when Lance Arm­strong crashed on a stage to Luz Ar­di­den. Af­ter right­ing him­self, Arm­strong slipped again be­cause of a prob­lem with his bike.

Tyler Hamil­ton, an Arm­strong team­mate, sprinted to the front of the lead group and made sure the rid­ers, in­clud­ing top chal­lenger Jan Ull­rich, slowed down.

Arm­strong, while wear­ing yel­low, has even waited on con­tenders. In 2001, he made sure Ull­rich — his top threat that year — was OK when Ull­rich crashed on a moun­tain.

Arm­strong, who fin­ished 23rd on Mon­day, said he wanted to see video of what hap­pened with Sch­leck and Con­ta­dor.

“It def­i­nitely was ques­tion­able,” Arm­strong said. Con­ta­dor “saw that Andy had an is­sue and he gassed it. I guess the only is­sue is Andy had started the at­tack, so it was ‘game on,’ I sup­pose.”

Sch­leck “never came back and lost the jersey — that’s a shame,” Arm­strong added.

Ear­lier in this year’s race, Fabian Can­cel­lara, who was wear­ing yel­low, or­dered rid­ers to slow down as more than half the pelo­ton suf­fered crashes on a rain-soaked road out­side of Spa, Bel­gium. Sch­leck, who is a team­mate of Can­cel­lara, blood­ied both el­bows in a crash. Con­ta­dor was one of the rid­ers to slow down.

There have been in­stances when eti­quette was ig­nored, too.

In 1971, race leader Eddy Mer­ckx suf­fered a flat tire on the first stage in the Alps, yet was at­tacked by four chal­lengers. Mer­ckx lost nearly nine min­utes that day, but ben­e­fited later in the Tour when race leader Luis Ocana crashed out of the race. Mer­ckx de­clined to wear the yel­low jersey the day af­ter Ocana’s in­jury be­cause he didn’t be­lieve he had earned the right to wear it.

Bjarne Riis, a for­mer Tour cham­pion and Sch­leck’s team di­rec­tor, said Con­ta­dor didn’t fol­low race tra­di­tions Mon­day.

“He should not have done that,” Riis said of Con­ta­dor. Sch­leck agreed. “Ev­ery­body can see for them­selves what hap­pened,” Sch­leck said. “I wouldn’t have done it my­self.”

Bas Czerwinski pho­tos

Al­berto Con­ta­dor of Spain, at left in blue, closely trails leader Andy Sch­leck of Lux­em­bourg, right, dur­ing a climb to­ward the Port de Bales pass on Mon­day. Con­ta­dor would charge past Sch­leck with two miles left in the climb.

Christophe Ena

The pack climbs to­ward the Port de Bales pass dur­ing the 15th stage of the Tour de France on Mon­day. To­day, the Tour tack­les the Tour­malet, the most revered sum­mit in the Pyre­nees. Check out pho­tos and more cov­er­age with this story on­line at states­man. com/go/tour­defrance.

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