On Stage 19’s 32.3-mile individual time trial course, Schleck gave a valiant effort to narrow Contador’s lead, a slim eight seconds before the day started, before succumbing in the final miles.
The defending champion has a lead of 39 seconds and is expected to finish the Tour, which ends tomorrow in Paris, in the yellow jersey.
On the podium after the race, Contador choked back tears as he realized his feat. “It was very emotional,” he admitted. “I think it's the first Tour that has given me so much emotion.”
This time trial, which wound through vineyards north of Bordeaux, was supposed to be a formality for Contador, the winner of the ’09 edition. But Schleck, considered the weaker of the two in the discipline, rocketed out of the start and, surprisingly, maintained his speed.
“I did the first [25 miles] really fast,” he told French television at the finish. But he eventually lost momentum – at one point his right foot, normally locked into the pedal, slipped off – and Contador upped the pace to pad his lead.
It was the end of a long fight for the yellow jersey, which began in earnest on Stage 15 last Monday in Ax-3 Domaines. Schleck’s chain came off his bike on the day’s final climb and Contador sped away, in a widely debated move, to take the jersey.
On Thursday, the two clashed again while ascending the Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrénées, but Schleck was unable to shake the Spaniard.
“It’s not easy to beat him, but I gave it my all,” said Schleck, 25, who will win the white jersey for best young rider. “I’m content and I’ll come back next year to try and win.”
“Tonight we’re going to have a good bottle of wine, I’m proud,” he said in an interview with French television. It was his second stage win of this year’s Tour – he also took the short 5.5-mile prologue in Rotterdam on July 3.
Joining Contador and Schleck on the podium tomorrow will be Russian Denis Menchov. The Rabobank rider started the day in fourth place, 21 seconds behind third-placed Samuel Sanchez of Spain. But he blazed through the time trial, making up nearly two minutes on Sanchez and catapulting himself onto the podium for the second time in his career.
“Today’s time trial was the best of my life,” Menchov told reporters. “It’s confirmation for what I can do.”