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