Contador virtually seals third triumph
Schleck destined for runner-up spot again
Spain's Alberto Contador virtually secured his third yellow jersey victory in the Tour de France yesterday following the penultimate stage time trial won by Fabian Cancellara.
Astana leader Contador went into the 52km race against the clock with only an eight-second lead on Andy Schleck and the Luxemburger pushed him all the way before having to settle for second place overall.
Despite the threat of Schleck in the early stages, when he took his deficit down to almost two seconds, the Spaniard kept his composure to finish 31 seconds ahead of his closest rival.
Contador will now go into today's 20th and final stage, which is not usually contended by the yellow jersey rivals, with a 39-second lead on Schleck.
It means Schleck is set to finish runner-up for the second consecutive year, although after finishing 4min 11sec behind Contador in 2009, the Saxo Bank climbing specialist has set out his stall for next year's challenge.
If Contador and Schleck respect the final stage tradition, the Spaniard's winning margin will be among the fourth smallest in the history of the race.
"It was a very hard day. I've worked so hard for so many years but today it really came right down to the wire. That's why I'm so emotional," said Contador, who won the race in 2007 and 2009.
"In fact, I think it's the first Tour I've won where I've been so emotional. I want to thank all the people who have been there for me these last years."
Schleck had promised to give every last drop of energy in a bid to overturn his tiny deficit to Contador, whom he has yet to beat in a time trial.
Despite his defeat he admitted he still has work to do.
"I always said I was going to give it everything till the end and I think I did that," said Schleck.
"I've made some progress in the time trial in the past year, but to beat Contador is not easy."
Russian Denis Menchov won the battle for the third and final place on the Paris podium after outclassing Spaniard Samuel Sanchez.
Menchov started the stage with a 21-second deficit to the Euskaltel climbing specialist but the Rabobank rider's superior time trialling skills paid off handsomely.
Menchov will now start the final stage third overall at 2:01 with Sanchez in fourth at 3:40. Completing the top five will be promising young Belgian Jurgen van den Broeck, of Pharma Lotto, who is at 6:34 behind Contador.
Schleck's team-mate Cancellara capped his campaign the way he started it, having won the opening prologue in Rotterdam to take the race's yellow jersey. Cancellara clocked a winning time of 1hr 00min 56sec for the largely flat 52km course.