ST GAUDENS, France (Reuters) - Alberto Contador has little choice but to attack in Saturday's 14th stage of the Tour de France if the three-times champion is to finish on top of the podium again in Paris.
The 28-year-old Spaniard, who lost crucial time in the first stage and lost more ground again in the first mountain stage, has a 2:11 deficit to make up against his highest-ranked rival Frank Schleck.
The Luxembourg rider is one of four top guns with a slight advantage on seventh-placed Contador, who has been nursing a knee problem since he crashed during the first week of the race.
"His safety margin has dramatically narrowed," his former team manager Yvon Sanquer told Reuters.
The 14th stage is a 168.5-km ride that ends with a fearsome ascent to the Plateau de Beille -- at an average gradient of 7.9 -- the kind of climb that perfectly suits Contador.
The Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank, along with third-placed Australian Cadel Evans, will also have to attack if they want to further unsettle the Spaniard.
"There will be fireworks," Evans's BMC team manager John Lelangue told reporters.
France's Thomas Voeckler holds the overall leader's yellow jersey with a 1:49-advantage over Frank Schleck but his lead is expected to vanish in the steep climb to the Plateau de Beille.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Justin Palmer)