Tour de France Stage 17: Contador second by a hair, but likely to win overall

In the Tour de France's Stage 17 today, defending champion Alberto Contador hung with rival Andy Schleck up the race's most iconic climb, the Col du Tourmalet. French President Nicolas Sarkozy cheered their effort from the festive sidelines.

By , Correspondent

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    Stage winner Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, left, crosses the finish line with overall leader Alberto Contador of Spain to win the 17th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 174 kilometers (108.1 miles) with start in Pau and finish on Tourmalet pass, Pyrenees region, France, Thursday.
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Andy Schleck won the Tour de France's Stage 17 today, but Alberto Contador – second by half a bike length – may have wrapped up the overall Tour title.

As anticipated, the final mountain stage of the three-week Tour played host to a gritty battle between defending champion Contador and Schleck.

Riding through thick mist past thousands of spectators – including French president Nicolas Sarkozy – the two waged a war of wills and tactics up the Tour's most iconic climb – the Col du Tourmalet.

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IN PICTURES: Scenes from the 2010 Tour de France

Schleck, who rides for Saxo Bank, attempted several times to shake the defending champion, but he couldn't shake his Spanish rival from the Astana team.

Contador, clad in the yellow jersey, crossed the finish line with his 8 second overall lead still intact. Ironically, despite looking likely to win the Tour this year, Contador hasn't captured a single stage victory so far this year, though he came close today.

“I attacked at the end, but he was able to keep up,” Schleck said. “But I’m happy with what I did and that I won a stage.”

Contador: I wanted to show him I had legs

With just under six miles remaining in the race, Schleck – a rising star from Luxembourg – launched an attack off the front of the peloton.

Contador followed, and the two carefully picked their way through a broken breakaway group before finding themselves alone on the steep, narrow roads.

But Schleck did most of the work up the climb, expending energy, with Contador content to just follow his lead.

That is, except at the 2.3 -mile mark, when Contador raced ahead to test the waters.

“My attack was because I wanted to show him I had legs,” said Contador.

Schleck responded, staring the Spaniard down as he pulled alongside. Then the two rode together, wheels inches apart, up to the summit.

“It wasn’t possible to drop him,” Schleck reiterated in the post-race press conference. “He was too strong today.”

Sarkozy: 'It lived up to its promise'

After the stage, it seemed that Monday’s incident – when Contador attacked on a big climb just as Schleck’s chain popped off, breaching cycling's unwritten rules – had completely blown over.

The two patted each other on the back as they crossed the finish line, then headed to talk with Nicolas Sarkozy and, improbably, Lance Armstrong, on French television.

“It was a great finish, they both had the same strength,” Sarkozy said. “It lived up to its promise.”
Though Contador has a comfortable lead with just three stages remaining in the race, special attention will be focused on Saturday’s 32.3-mile time trial, an individual race against the clock, between Bordeaux and Pauillac.

Schleck not giving up on Tour win

Contador is one of the sport’s best in the discipline – last year, he cemented his 2009 Tour de France title by winning the time trial on Stage 18 in Annecy.
But Schleck, significantly weaker in time trials, is not giving up.

“I think I’ve showed I’m with him now and the gap is only 8 seconds,” said Schleck. “I can see the yellow jersey in front of me and I really want it.” Contador, who has two overall Tour titles under his belt, isn't resting on his laurels.

Asked by a reporter after the race if he thought he could equal Lance Armstrong’s record seven Tour titles, he demurred. “No, because at this moment, I haven’t even won my third,” he said.

IN PICTURES: Scenes from the 2010 Tour de France

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