Tour de France: Shaky Contador hangs on for third Tour

Schleck shows surprising turn of time-trial speed to push Spaniard to the limit, writes Alasdair Fotheringham from Pauillac

One of the closest-fought Tours de France in the past 20 years lived out a dramatic finale yesterday as Alberto Contador narrowly fended off Andy Schleck in the individual time-trial to claim his third overall title.

Contador crossed the finish line in Pauillac, deep in the Bordeaux winemaking region, just 31 seconds ahead of Schleck, and – barring a near-unthinkable upheaval on today's largely ceremonial closing stage – will end the race 39 seconds ahead of his most tenacious rival.

Contador's winning margin is the fourth smallest since the Second World War, and the Spaniard's tears of relief yesterday confirmed just how desperately close it had been.

After nearly 3,500 kilometres, a single miscalculation on one corner of the 52km race against the clock, the longest time-trial for three years in the Tour, let alone a puncture or mechanical incident, would have cost Contador the Tour. As it was, the Spaniard crossed the line with a third Tour victory in four years – one of only nine riders to take a hat-trick of titles in cycling's flagship event – and his sixth consecutive title in a major stage race.

"I can't help feeling extremely emotional about this," Contador said. "The sense of release and liberation after this stage today is incredible. I really didn't feel good, I had a very bad night with an upset stomach, and felt terrible in the first few kilometres. Today was my worst day of the Tour. It was only when I got to the last part of the course that slowly I could turn things around."

In theory, it should not have been such an agonisingly narrow victory; on paper Schleck is by far the poorer time-triallist, and the Luxembourgeois had estimated that had he been in yellow, he would have needed at least a 90-second advantage over Contador before the stage to hold on.

Instead, over the most unexpected of terrains and in the most crucial moments of the 2010 Tour, a rider labelled as a climber suddenly showed a new facet to his talents, and began challenging Contador. Instead of displaying his usual ungainly style on his time-trial bike, Schleck seemed more comfortable than Contador and after 18km, a third of the pancake-flat, exposed course, had even managed to draw slightly ahead.

As the vineyards flashed by on one side of the road and the majestic River Garonne rolled past on the other, Schleck opened up an advantage of seven seconds, enough to put him within one second of reclaiming yellow. But just as it seemed the Tour was en route for its biggest upset since Greg LeMond turned the tables on Laurent Fignon in the final time-trial in 1989, Contador regained control.

Even if the gusting winds were battering his fragile 62-kilo figure more mercilessly than they were Schleck, Contador put down an increasingly steady pace. Only on one left-hand bend, when he came within inches of hitting the barriers, did it seem that he might be cutting it too fine. Finally, though, as the gap between the Tour's leader and the Best Young Rider stretched to over 20 seconds, Contador's late burst began to pay off. Schleck's shoulders were beginning to sag as he tore along the final straightaways, and at long last the rider who has dogged Contador ever since the race reached the Alps two weeks ago was forced to throw in the towel.

The two will end the 2010 Tour in the same final positions overall as they did in 2009, with Contador first and Schleck second, but such a hard-fought final duel could not have been more appropriate. For three weeks, apart from a mechanical problem for Contador over the cobbles of northern France mirrored by one for Schleck in the Pyrenees, the two riders were never more than 10 seconds apart on the climbs. "Andy has not been stronger this year," Contador claimed. "Rather I've been worse."

Today's final stage should see Mark Cavendish repeat his 2009 success on the Champs Elysées and claim a fifth win. A stunning victory on Friday in Bordeaux proved that the Manxman remains the fastest sprinter in the Tour. It is even possible he could take the green points jersey, though for that to happen the current leader, Alessandro Petacchi, will have to finish outside the top six on the stage.

On paper, that is highly unlikely. But after yesterday's near-upset in the battle for the yellow jersey it would take a brave man to make too many predictions about what will be the final outcome for the green.

Winners and losers: Borat lookalikes rule but litterbugs are rubbish

Winners: The French: Six stage wins is their best total since 1997, not to mention a victory in the King of the Mountains classification, even if their search for an overall contender continues to be fruitless.



Borat lookalikes: Never have so many men clad in funny green mankinis – and nothing much else – managed to get themselves so much TV coverage. We're not sure this is a good thing.



Starting the Tour abroad: It was three weeks ago and is almost forgotten now, but in terms of fan support Rotterdam was a huge triumph, just as Monaco succeeded in 2009, likewise London in 2007. Keep those foreign starts coming.



Andy Schleck: He has progressed enormously in the mountains and will be back next year to win the Tour. Even the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, thinks that Contador won't be able to stop him next July.



The British: Multiple stage wins for Mark Cavendish was almost to be expected, but not that seven out of eight GB starters, the most since 1968, would finish, or that there would be such a huge rise in British roadside fans. It didn't even matter that Bradley Wiggins's overall bid failed: they backed him all the way to Paris.



The anti-doping battle: Don't say it too loudly, but so far the number of positive dope tests in the Tour is precisely zero. Some may come out in the next few weeks – last year that was the case – but so far so good.



The Tour: Commanded 60 per cent of French audience shares on the key Tourmalet stage, not what the doom-merchants who predicted the race's imminent demise would like to hear.



Losers: Cadel Evans: The Aussie world champion came through the dangerous first week brilliantly, held the race lead for a day, then slowly slid out of contention. Having a broken arm might have had something to do with it.



Christian Van de Velde: American outsider who crashed out of the Tour with two broken ribs and multiple lacerations following a mega pile-up in the Ardennes. All this after abandoning the Tour of Italy for the second year running. Not a man to buy a lottery ticket from.



Frank Schleck: Andy Schleck's brother and team-mate was another outsider who might just have tipped the balance of the race in Andy's favour. But as he broke his collarbone on the cobbles of northern France, we'll never know.



Lance Armstrong: After a superb first week, his bid disintegrated in one Alpine stage as he crashed twice. Armstrong will stand on the podium as part of the top team, and racing the Tour at 38 deserves respect, but an eighth win was on the cards until he came a cropper.



Cycling litterbugs: Five Tour riders are due to be taken to court in Belgium for their (perfectly usual, if ecologically unsound) habit of throwing empty water bottles on to the roadside.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Copywriter / Direct Response Copywriter

£20k plus sales linked bonus. : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Copywriter to j...

Recruitment Genius: Accounting Technician

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has bec...

Guru Careers: 3D Creative Designer

Up to £26k DOE: Guru Careers: A Junior / Mid-Level 3D Creative Designer is nee...

Recruitment Genius: Ecommerce Website Digital Marketing Manager - Fashion / Retail

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You'll be joining a truly talen...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen