Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador proved what we already knew. They are the best two climbers in the Tour de France. By far.

But Schleck could not shake off Contador on the Col du Tourmalet. The two riders rose through the mist together and at the finish line the Spaniard did the decent thing and did not nip past Schleck, who had set the pace for the final 10 kilometres of the climb.

Going into the stage, Contador led Schleck by just eight seconds. Contador still leads by that slim margin, but he will be the big favourite to win his third Tour in the 52-kilometre time trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac on Saturday. Contador will be the last man to start, a small but important advantage, and can measure his effort.

Having beaten Schleck by 1-45 at Annecy in a short, hillier time trial during last year’s race, the Astana man should seal the Tour, barring disaster.

It was not a tactically astute performance by Schleck, although that is easy to say in hindsight. The Saxo Bank team set a fierce pace early on the 18-kilometre climb of the west side of the Tourmalet. One by one the riders in dark blue and white took turns and it was obvious Schleck was planning to attack.

Schleck did attack, with 10 kilometres remaining but Contador followed him. With a few hundred metres, the pair were away, leaving the next best riders in the Tour trailing in their wake.

The conundrum for Schleck was that a constant fast pace was not putting Contador into difficulty. Perhaps he needed to vary the tempo and hit Contador with a succession of searing accelerations instead of trying to burn him off his wheel.

The frustration was obvious. Schleck only lost the yellow jersey to Contador because his chain jammed on the Port de Balès on Monday.

With 3.9km to go, having set the pace all the way up the climb, Schleck flicked his elbow, hoping Contador would do a turn.

He did more than that. He jumped away and forced Schleck to close the gap, which he did quite easily.

Towards the top, as the crowd closed in, the opportunity to use the full width of the road to launch an attack was denied to both riders. There were flags and banners and fans in costumes running alongside the riders. It may have looked entertaining but the last five kilometres needed to be flanked with barriers to allow the riders to race.

That wasn’t the only reason there was to be no attack. Contador probably felt he didn’t need to gain time. Schleck could not find one last burst. They had pulled out more than 1-30 on the next group. They had proved their superiority.

Now it is down to the time trial. Perhaps Schleck has played the longest bluff of all. Perhaps his skill against the clock has improved sufficiently to cause a big shock. Perhaps.

It is unlikely. Now Contador will hope to seal the Tour with a stage win, otherwise he will become the first champion since Greg Lemond in 1990 to go the entire race without a stage victory.

For Schleck another second place looks on the cards but he has the consolation of having won two of the toughest mountain stages, at Morzine and on the Tourmalet.

Behind the main two, Denis Menchov did enough to make himself favourite for the third spot on the podium. He lost a few seconds to Samuel Sanchez, who crashed hard early in the stage, but the Russian will be confident going into the time trial.

The biggest loser overall was Radioshack’s Levi Leipheimer, who lost nine minutes and fell out of the top 10 to 13th. That meant Garmin-Transitions’ Ryder Hesjedal moved up to eighth, Roman Kreuziger rose to ninth and Leipheimer’s team-mate Chris Horner hauled himself into the top 10.

Torrential rain overnight made conditions bleak. After a very hot Tour it was cool and damp, with low cloud and mist reducing visibility. Anyone expecting fireworks was to be disappointed. This mountain stage was as formulaic as they come.

Seven riders attacked early on. They were Juan Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky, Kristjan Koren of Liquigas, Alexandr Kolobnev of Katusha, Marcus Burghardt of BMC Racing, Remi Pauriol of Cofidis and Ruben Perez of Euskaltel.

There was a moment of drama when Samuel Sanchez, lying third overall, crashed heavily. Just as he went down, Carlos Sastre of Cervélo was pushing on at the head of the bunch. Alberto Contador tried to persuade Sastre to slow down but the Cervélo man persisted with his attack and went clear with a team-mate, Ignatas Konovalovas.

When Konovalovas dropped back, Sastre was condemned to a long, lone chase that never looked like resulting in anything other than exhaustion.

The stage slipped into a state of slumber. The leaders rode on at a decent tempo. The bunch held the lead at a constant seven minutes. And Sastre got no nearer to bridging the gap.

Sastre was finally caught 25km from the finish, as the bunch approached the bottom of the Tourmalet. By now the leading seven had seen their advantage slashed to 4-30.

As they started the climb, the lead had just plunged below four minutes. And at that moment Sastre paid the price for his efforts and was dropped from the peloton.

On the lower slopes of the climb, Saxo Bank set a fierce pace in the bunch. In the lead, Boasson Hagen gave one last turn on the front of the break, then sat up. Shortly after that Flecha was dropped too. The group splintered and it left Burghardt and Kolobnev out in front.

Kolobnev was passed by Schleck and Contador and the pair went on to contest the stage and sort out the Tour.

Tomorrow’s 18th stage runs from Salies-de-Béarn to Bordeaux. It’ll be pan flat and on paper it should be a sprint but much will depend on whether HTC-Columbia, Cervélo and Lampre want to keep it together. There’s also the possibility of crosswinds.

RESULTS
Stage 17: Pau – Col du Tourmalet

1. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank 174km in 5-03-29
2. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana same time
3. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 1-18
4. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Transitions at 1-27
5. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 1-32
6. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 1-40
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank same time
8. Chris Horner (USA) Radioshack at 1-45
9. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma at 1-48
10. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas at 2-14

Overall
1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana in 83-32-39
2. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 8sec
3. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 3-32
4. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 3-53
5. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma at 5-27
6. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 6-41
7. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 7-03
8. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Transitions at 9-18
9. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas at 10-12
10. Chris Horner (USA) Radioshack at 10-37

Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, Tour de France 2010, stage 17

Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck shake hands after the finish

Tour de France 2010: Latest news

Armstrong has his last go in the Tour

Tour’s points leader Petacchi investigated for doping

Contador issues video apology to Schleck

Millar searches horizon for Eiffel Tower

Schleck-Contador friendship turns sour after chain problem

Wiggins at 2010 Tour: “I haven’t got it”

Basso wins Tour’s acceptance; podium spot next goal

Contador versus Schleck: A game of seconds

Can Cav win without Renshaw?

Hesjedal pushing his way to the Tour’s top

Renshaw disqualification overshadows Cavendish’s win

Charly Wegelius pulls out of Tour

Did Armstrong own a stake in Tailwind Sports, or not?

Cavendish in a ‘must win’ situation for Tour’s green jersey

Millar rides through pain barrier to make time cut

Roche alongside Tour’s top men ahead of Pyrenees

Wiggins to aim for Tour de France stage win?

Dan Lloyd battles on in Tour despite groin strain

Tour de France 2010: Stage reports

Rest day review (July 21)

Stage 16: Fedrigo takes tough Pyrenean stage

Stage 15: Victorious Voeckler continues fine Franch Tour as Contador takes yellow jersey

Stage 14: Riblon hangs on in Pyrenees to give France fourth stage win

Stage 13: Vino returns to top of Tour after doping ban

Stage 12: Rodriguez wins as Contador attacks

Stage 11: Cavendish bags third stage win but lead out man kicked out of Tour

Stage 10: Cavendish bags third stage win but his lead-out man is kicked out of race

Stage 10: Paulinho claims narrow stage victory on Bastille day

Stage nine: Casar wins stage as Schleck and Contador go head-to-head

Stage seven: Chavanel wins stage and takes overall as Thomas drops out of Tour’s white

Stage six: Cavendish makes it two as Tour hots up

Stage five: Cavendish wins his first stage of Tour

Stage four: Petacchi wins into Reims

Stage three: Hushovd takes dramatic win; Thomas second on stage and GC

Stage three live coverage: As it happened

Stage two: Comeback man Chavanel takes victory in Spa

Stage one: Petacchi wins in Brussels as bunch left in tatters

Prologue: Cancellara pips Martin to win

Tour de France 2010: Photos

Stage 15 photo gallery

Stage 14 photo gallery

Stage 13 photo gallery

Stage 12 photo gallery

Stage 11 photo gallery

Stage 10 photo gallery

Stage nine photo gallery

Stage eight photo gallery

Tour 2010 wallpaper

Stage seven photo gallery

Stage six photo gallery

Stage five photo gallery

Stage four photo gallery

Stage three photo gallery

Stage two photo gallery

Stage one gallery

Prologue photo gallery

Tour de France 2010: Videos

Stage 16 video highlights

Stage 15 video highlights

Stage 14 video highlights

Stage 13 video highlights

Stage 12 video highlights

Stage 11 video highlights

Stage 10 video highlights

Stage nine video highlights

Stage eight video highlights

Stage seven video highlights

Stage six video highlights

Stage five video highlights

Stage four video highlights

Stage three video highlights

Stage two video highlights

Stage one video highlights

Prologue video highlights

Tour de France 2010: Race guide

Tour de France 2010: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index

Official start list, with race numbers

Brits at the Tour 2010

Tout team guide

Tour jerseys: What they are and what they mean

Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Wiggins

Tour de France 2010: Pictures

Tour team presentation, Rotterdam

Tour teams take to the cobbles: Photo special

 

  • adam

    Bertie is doing what he needs to win the Tour – which, after all, is the point. Schleck is certainly stronger this year – but AC knows what he has to do and why risk anything else?

    On another matter, I fully appreciate part of the Tour is being close to the riders and the atmosphere and the noise and everything…. But i don’t get why so many ‘fans’ impeed the riders in the way they do. Surely they are there to watch the Tour and see the riders, so why do they then annoy the riders to the point where they’re having to push past them or nudge them out of the way? I know it’s happened before, but it’s only a matter of time before another win is denied by a stupid fan in a stupid costume tripping over and unseating a leading rider….

  • Paul G

    Not everybody is against Contador, and i don’t really think Schleck has been ‘playing dirty’. I can’t see why people are still going on about the whole situation, when the two riders have settled their issues anyway… Move on people… just enjoy the fact that the final tour result is going to be settled on the last stage…

  • edren

    Contador waited for Schleck. Schleck didn’t waited for him and Contador losed 1.13 minutes. And now… Contador “didn’t see” any problems and he gets 40’….. For me it’s totally fair. What would be unfair is that Schleck had the yellow jersey.
    And what’s more, today we have seen who’s in his best moment: Contador.

  • zz

    Dont understand why everybody is against Contador.Schleck should not have worn the yellow jersey at first,he just got it because he didnt wait for Contador in Spa when Contador fell and had also mechanic problems.the day before Contador wait for Schleck,Schleck was loosing 4 min.So Contador is not the winner because of the chain day,he is the real strong man,he didnt need to attacked today because he knows he can get 2min advantage or more in the time trial over Andy.Dont understand why Andy can play dirty but not others.they are at the moment the 2 best cyclers but Albert is much better, you only have to look at their major achievements and compare them,specially this year Alberto has been racing a lot, a week races and winning.Alberto: 1stVolta algarve,1stParis-Nice,1stVuelta Castilla,3thLa Flèche Wallonne,2nd and 2 stages Critérium du Dauphiné,etc
    Andy:1st National Time Trial Champion,6th Liège–Bastogne–Liège,9th La Flèche Wallonne.
    But unfortunatly for some people that have no clue to be the best its just win the tour. Andy will be like Armstrong just training on the tunel for the tour… what a pity!!!