Contador heading for victory but admits weaker than before
Saturday’s 19th stage of the Tour de France was an individual time trial between Bordeaux and Pauillac through the vineyards of the Bordeaux wine-growing region. The day’s stage was won by Fabien Cancellara of Switzerland but, in a decisive battle with Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck, Alberto Contador of Spain managed to increase his overall lead.
Alberto Contador has almost certainly won his third Tour de France victory after keeping hold of his overall leader’s yellow jersey at the end of the penultimate stage of this year’s race in Pauillac on Saturday.
Contador, also ended the day’s second individual time trial stage with an increased overall lead over Schleck, his closest rival.
The 27-year-old Spaniard, riding for Astana, started the day only eight seconds ahead of 25-year-old Schleck, who is riding for Saxo Bank.
At the end of the day, that lead had increased to 39 seconds.
The result ends days of speculation that Schleck would beat Contador and retake the yellow jersey.
It was a long shot. Contador has now beaten the Luxemburger in all six individual time trials the two have competed in together since 2007.
But Schlek did ride noticibly better this year and proved once again that he has the makings of a future Tour de France champion.
At times during the 52-kilometre time trial between Bordeaux and Pauillac both riders were only a one second apart and it was only after the halfway mark that Contador managed to increase his speed and his overall time difference.
The Spaniard said the victory had not been an easy one and admitted that, compared to last year’s Tour de France, there were moments when he had not been riding quite so well.
"I trained hard for this stage and I am extremely happy to have won," he said. "I am feeling very emotional about my victory and I think this is the first Tour that I have won which has made me feel that way. I am so happy, you can’t imagine what I am feeling at the moment. I want to thank all those who have supported me."
But this year he seemed slightly less strong than last year. His performances were less impressive. Contador agrees with that judgement.
"Yes, there were several days during this Tour when I really wasn’t in top form. Obviously people must have noticed that," he says.
It's a great sporting year for Spain - what with winning the football World Cup, Rafael Nadal winning tennis championships and a creditable performance in Formula One motor racing?
"Yes, it’s true," says Contador. "Spanish sport is doing really well in all domains. We really are at the top and I am really delighted to be part of it."
The cyclist is leaving his options open as to whether he will stay with the Astana team next year.
"For the moment we are examining several possibilities," he told me. "But it is highly likely that I will remain with Astana."
So Contador remains in yellow at the end of Saturday’s 19th stage with Schleck is 39 seconds behind in second place.
But Schleck keeps hold of the white jersey for best young rider, awarded to those born after January 1st 1985.
Third place goes to Denis Menchov of Russia who increased his overall time on Saturday and who knocked Samuel Sanchez of Spain into fourth place.
The winner of Saturday’s stage was Fabien Cancellara of Switzerland who completed the 52-kilometre run in one hour and 56 seconds. Cancellara, who held the yellow jersey for six days at the start of this year’s Tour has proved that he is the king of the individual time trials.
The final stage of the 97th Tour de France takes place Sunday between Longjumeau and Paris on the Champs Elysees, a distance of 102 kilometres. The stage will be another chance for the top sprinters like four-stage winner Mark Cavendish of the UK, former green jersey holder Thor Hushovd of Norway or current green jersey holder Alessandro Petacchi to pull off one final stage win.
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