Alberto Contador's path to his third Tour de France win has covered in baby steps and not the giant strides seen in the past. A few seconds there and some here have added to put him in winning position for Sunday in Paris.
"This Tour was pretty difficult due to some of the stages that you thought would be normal, but turned out to be critical," said team Astana's sports director, Giuseppe Martinelli.
"Look at the the stage to Mende, where Alberto took 15 seconds from Andy, or the controversial stage two days ago - those 40 seconds have turned out to be very comforting."
Contador has eight seconds on Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) heading into tomorrow's decisive 52-kilometre time trial from Bordeaux to Pulliac.
Winner in 2007 and 2009, Contador started this year as the overall favourite. He and Schleck rode away from their rivals on the stage to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne and made the 2010 edition a two-man race.
The finish in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne concluded an epic mountain day, one which saw Sky's Bradley Wiggins lose nearly five minutes. However, Contador's battle to win the yellow jersey was made up of lots of small battles: a 42" gain in the Rotterdam time trial, a 1'13" loss in the Arenberg stage, a 10" loss in Morzine-Avoriaz, a 10" gain in Mende and a 39" gain in Bagnères-de-Luchon.
"Maybe this year I didn't have to attack so much and I could ride more conservatively," explained Contador. "I've had good sensations throughout this Tour and my data is at the same level as last year."
"Not every year is the same. However, Alberto has shown to be one of the two strongest riders with Andy," added Martinelli
"I don't know how he was going last year because I was only watching him on television from home, but it seems he is going as strong this year."
Last year, Contador put 1'45" into Schleck in the final 40.5-kilometre time trial to secure his win. This year, though, it will likely be a baby step, adding to the others and producing a win.
As it stands now, it is the closest Tour de France ahead of the final time trial since Claudio Chiappucci and Greg LeMond in 1990.
Close classification battles ahead of final time trial (with eventual Tour winner first unless noted)
5" - LeMond/Chiappucci (1990)
8" - Contador/Schleck (2010, winner ?)
12" - Van Springel/San Miguel (1968, winner Janssen)
14" - Anquetil/Poulidor (1964)
14" - Hinault/Zoetemelk (1978)
21" - Roche/Delgado (1987)
28" - Anquetil/Bahamontes (1963)
36" - Thévenet/Kuiper (1977)
39" Favero/Gemignani (1958, winner Gaul)
50" - LeMond/Fignon (1989)
Tour de France 2010: Latest news
Schleck behind after Tourmalet duel but refuses to give up
Hesjedal leaps up classification with Tour's Tourmalet ride
Sky pushes ahead regardless of Wiggins placing
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
Stage 17: Schleck wins on the Tourmalet but cannot shake off Contador
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
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