Alberto Contador set to win 3rd Tour de France title after winning duel with Andy Schleck

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Contador locks up Tour title in 19th stage

PAUILLAC, France — Alberto Contador is set to win his third Tour de France title in four years after retaining the yellow jersey in the next-to-last stage Saturday.

Fabian Cancellara won the time trial, but Contador extended his slim lead over Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, who had started the 19th stage 8 seconds back.

“I am very moved. … It was a difficult Tour and I’m very happy,” Contador said.

After donning the yellow jersey, he wiped away tears and took a deep breath, his hand trembling as he made his trademark gesture to the crowd — pretending to shoot with his finger.

“I think it’s the first Tour that has given me so much emotion, you can’t imagine.”

Schleck said he had no regrets.

“Beating Contador is not easy, but I tried everything,” he said. “I am happy, and I’ll come back next year to win.”

Barring catastrophe, the 27-year-old Contador is all but certain to win the race in the 20th and final stage Sunday — a 63.7-mile trek from Longjumeau to the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

By tradition, the last stage has become a largely ceremonial ride — and any attempt at attacks would likely be quashed by Contador and his Astana teammates.

Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, who is riding in his last Tour and ruled himself out of contention after crashing and struggling in the first day in the Alps in Stage 8, is set to go out with a whimper.

The 38-year-old Texan, who once dominated time trials, finished Saturday’s stage in 67th place, 7:05 back of Cancellara. Overall, he is 23rd — 39:20 behind his former teammate and rival Contador.

Armstrong returned to a RadioShack team car and left without speaking to reporters after the stage.

Riders set off one by one down a starter’s ramp for the 32.3-mile race against the clock that set the final positions on the podium. Schleck is set to finish second to Contador for the second straight year.

Cancellara, one of the world’s top time-trial riders, won by outpacing Tony Martin of Germany, who was second, 17 seconds back. Bert Grabsch of Germany was third, 1 minute, 48 seconds behind the winner.

Contador was 35th, 5:43 back, while Schleck finished 44th, 6:14 behind Cancellara. That 31-second difference extended the Spaniard’s overall lead to 39 seconds.

It was a day of duels.

Denis Menchov of Russia, who won the 2009 Giro d’Italia, mounted an impressive time trial and overcame Samuel Sanchez of Spain to secure third place overall.

Menchov had begun the day in fourth, 21 seconds back of Sanchez, but nearly four minutes behind Contador and Schleck. The Russian finished 11th — 3:51 back of Cancellara — and Sanchez was 40th, 5:51 behind.

Overall, Menchov trails Contador by 2:01, and Sanchez fell to fourth, trailing his compatriot by 3:40.

In the other race categories — assuming the riders and teams finish Sunday — France’s Anthony Charteau has locked up the polka-dot jersey for the race’s best climber; the 25-year-old Schleck will take home the white jersey for being the best young Tour rider for a third straight year and Team RadioShack is set to win the team competition.

The last remaining question lingers over the fate of the green jersey, given to the best race sprinter based on a points system, because Sunday’s stage is likely to end in a sprint. Alessandro Petacchi — a 36-year-old Italian — currently looks likely to win that shirt.

July 25, 2010: 3:01 pm

Congratulations to Contador on a race well-run! Last year his battle with Armstrong was fun to watch, this year Andy Schleck gave him a run for his money but couldn’t be beat. I won’t be too impressed though until he wins a couple more in row to start creepin up on Armstrong’s record.

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