Time-trial performance expected to seal third Tour de France victory for Alberto Contador

By Naomi Koppel, AP
Saturday, July 24, 2010

Contador expected to seal third Tour de France win

BORDEAUX, France — When Alberto Contador next gets off his bike, he will likely be a three-time winner of the Tour de France.

The Spaniard will be the last rider to take to the roads for Saturday’s 32.3-mile 19th stage time-trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac, and he is expected to extend substantially his eight-second lead over Luxembourger Andy Schleck.

When the two men met in last year’s time-trial, Contador won the stage — which was shorter than this year’s outing — and took 1 minute, 45 seconds from Schleck. Contador went on to win the Tour, with Schleck second — the same result that most expect this year.

Saturday is the last stage in which the positions at the top can change. Sunday’s final stage into Paris is traditionally a sprinters’ stage and a daylong victory procession for the overall winner.

Still, Contador insists his victory is not certain until the time trial is over.

“This is a hard stage that comes after 20 days in the Tour, and this isn’t a race for specialists. I think I will really have to fight a lot to win the stage and to defeat (Schleck),” he said.

Schleck hasn’t given up hope.

“I feel good. I have nothing to lose,” he said. “He’s better but I’m not bad, too. We’re going to see a battle.”

In the race for third place, Olympic road race champion Samuel Sanchez of Spain holds a 21-second lead over Denis Menchov of Russia, the winner of the 2009 Giro d’Italia.

Among those hoping for the stage win Saturday is world time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, Schleck’s teammate at Saxo Bank. Cancellara took the race’s prologue time trial and held the yellow jersey for six days early in the race.

On Friday, Mark Cavendish showed again that even without his most important teammate few can touch him when it comes to sprinting.

The British rider captured the 18th stage from Salies-de-Bearn to Bordeaux in a sprint finish. It was his fourth win of this year’s Tour and his 14th in three years of competing in cycling’s premier event.

He surged to the front in the final 200 yards. He gave himself such a lead that he was able to look behind a couple of times and cross the line with his fist in the air.

Cavendish won without his usual leadout man and roommate, Mark Renshaw, who was expelled from the race after the 11th stage for head-butting an opponent. Cavendish dedicated his latest victory to Renshaw, adding that the Australian rider made life easy and brought him to the front at just the right moment.

“I’ve missed Mark,” Cavendish said. “I missed him in the Pyrenees, I missed somebody suffering more than me. I missed somebody to laugh about, about how hard it is.”

Second place went to Julian Dean of New Zealand, and third to Alessandro Petacchi of Italy. Petacchi took the green jersey given to the leading sprinter from Thor Hushovd of Norway.

Hushovd acknowledged that his fight to retain the sprint title he won last year was over.

“It’s a big disappointment, but I realized step by step during the sprints that I’m suffering,” said Hushovd, speaking after ducking into his team bus to take off the green jersey he had been wearing. “I don’t have the same level as Cavendish and Petacchi, and today was just another sprint that didn’t work out.”

Associated Press Writer Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.

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