Spain's defending champion Alberto Contador and two-time runner-up Andy Schleck of Luxembourg renew their rivalry as the 2011 Tour de France gets underway on Saturday.
AFP - Yellow jersey contender Andy Schleck on Friday stopped short of criticising the crowd which gave reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador a hostile welcome to the race.
And the Luxemburger said he would not refuse any help from fans at roadside during his three-week campaign to finally land stage racing's biggest prize.
Contador, who will defend his crown in spite of a ruling which could lead to a doping ban in a month's time, was whistled and jeered by half of a 7000-strong crowd at the team's presentation late Thursday.
Schleck, whose Leopard team were given applause minutes earlier, said Friday: "It wasn't good for the team nor for Alberto but some of the crowd are fans and some are not, that's life.
"It wasn't nice."
Contador, who has won all the Grand Tours including the Giro d'Italia for the second time in May, tested positive for clenbuterol at last year's race.
He has been cleared by the Spanish authorities, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) will decide in August whether his claim that the positive test was down to contaminated meat is valid.
The cycling authorities have meanwhile urged fans and competing cyclists to consider Contador as innocent until proven guilty.
Schleck's older brother Frank, who is also competing at the July 2-24 race, echoed those sentiments.
"Alberto is here, that means he has the right to race. You have to respect that," said the Luxemburger, who is considered an outside bet for a place on the podium in Paris.
One of the hottest topics of last year's race was Contador's decision to attack Andy Schleck when the Luxemburger, wearing the yellow jersey, suffered a mechanical problem late in the race.
The Spaniard went on to take the race lead, although Schleck and some fans rounded on Contador who was subsequently booed on the podium.
While Schleck claims that incident is now forgiven, the Luxemburger said he wouldn't say no to some extra support from roadside as he bids to unseat Spain's three-time champion
"Personally, yes I hope to benefit from the public's support but we'll see how the race develops," said Andy.
"It gives you more motivation. I like that, and it's something I can benefit from."
Date created : 2011-07-02