Tour de France 19: Contador clinches Tour in close battle

Fabian Cancellara wins time trial stage

Spain's Alberto Contador virtually secured his third yellow jersey victory in the Tour de France Saturday following the penultimate stage time trial won by Swiss Fabian Cancellara.

Astana leader Contador went into the 52km race against the clock with only an eight-second lead on Andy Schleck and the Luxembourger 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 31sec ahead of his closest rival.

Contador will now go into Sunday's 20th and final stage, which is not usually contended by the yellow jersey rivals, with a 39sec 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."

A happy Contador

An exhausted Schleck

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 21sec deficit to the Euskaltel climbing specialist but the Rabobank rider's superior time trialling skills paid off handsomely.

Menchov will now start Sunday's 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 teammate Cancellara capped his campaign the way he started it, having won the opening prologue in Rotterdam to take the race's yellow jersey.

Olympic time trial champion Cancellara clocked a winning time of 1hr 00min 56sec for the largely flat 52km course between Bordeaux and Pauillac to push German Tony Martin into second place.

HTC-Columbia rider Martin finished 17secs adrift with compatriot and teammate Bert Grabsch in third at 1min 48sec.

Cancellara caps Tour campaign with TT victory

Fabian Cancellara

Swiss Olympic champion Fabian  Cancellara overcame the fatigue of three tough weeks of racing to win his  first long time trial on the Tour de France's 19th stage on Saturday.

Saxo Bank time trial specialist Cancellara clocked a winning time of 1hr  00min 56sec on the largely flat but wind-hit course between Bordeaux and  Pauillac to push Germany's Tony Martin into second place.

HTC-Columbia rider Martin finished 17secs adrift with compatriot and  teammate Bert Grabsch in third at 1min 48sec.

It means Cancellara caps his 2010 campaign with another victory having  started the race in Rotterdam by winning the prologue to take the race's  yellow jersey.

And after finally adding a long time trial success on the race to his  impressive list of victories the Swiss says he is now ready to sit back and  savour some of the region's best tipple.

"Today I really wanted to win but I am also very tired. It was a long day  for me and a very long three weeks," he said.

"But I'm happy, that's for sure. I've added another win to my big list.

"Thankfully there's only 100 kilometres till Paris, and then it's over. It  was nice to get this win in such a nice place. I think tonight we will sit  down and celebrate with a nice big bottle of wine."

In last year's final time trial on stage 18 Cancellara finished second,  only three seconds adrift, to eventual yellow jersey champion Alberto Contador.

In 2008 the Swiss finished 21secs behind Germany's Stefan Schumacher, who  was eventually disqualified after testing positive for the banned blood  booster EPO-Cera.

Although there is one stage remaining on Sunday, it is expected to finish  with a bunch sprint on the Champs Elysées with the coveted green jersey still  up for grabs.

Contador meanwhile reinforced his grip on the yellow jersey after beating  main rival Andy Schleck, Cancellara's teammate, by 31secs in the time trial  having started with just an eight-second advantage.

The Spaniard will now go into Sunday's final stage with a 39sec lead on the  Luxembourger, but Cancellara believes the Spaniard won't have it so easy in the  future.

"Losing by only 30 (31) seconds to Contador in the time trial is not a lot  eh?" added the Swiss.

"I'm not going to say how many Tours he's going to win, but if he continues  like that .... he'll be around for a while in the future. He didn't win, but he was certainly one of the champions of this race."

© AFP 2010

For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.

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