Contador all but clinches Tour de France title

Contador all but clinches Tour de France title

As expected, Alberto Contador beat Andy Schleck in Saturday's individual time trial to all but clinch the 2010 Tour de France crown, dpa reported.

But the showdown was much closer than many observers - and no doubt Contador himself - had expected, as the 27-year-old Spaniard edged out his rival by only 31 seconds.

Contador now leads the 25-year-old Schleck by 39 seconds with one stage to go in the three-week race.

Ironically, Schleck lost exactly 39 seconds to Contador in Monday's 15th stage when the chain of his bicycle popped out of the derailleur and the Spaniard raced ahead.

Contador drew a great deal of criticism for not waiting for Schleck after the mishap, and had to apologize publicly.

Since Sunday's stage is traditionally a leisurely victory parade to the Champs Elysees in Paris, Contador must only avoid injury and illness to take his third Tour title.

"This is the first Tour that made me feel so much emotion," Contador said after the stage. "I'm very happy."

Visibly fatigued, he broke into tears on the podium, after a race that was much more difficult than expected.

"It was a very difficult Tour," the Spaniard said. "I trained very hard, with a lot of commitment, the entire year. But it was difficult until the final moment."

So it now seems more than probable that this year's Tour will end as last year's did, with Contador as Tour champion and Schleck placing second.

"I gave it everything until the end, as I said I would," Schleck said. "But it's not easy to beat Contador in a time trial."

At one point during Saturday's stage, Schleck had made up all but one second on his rival, but he tired visibly in the second half of the course.

Schleck said that during the Tour he had missed his elder brother Frank, who crashed and broke his collarbone in an early stage. But he promised: "I am coming back next year to win."

Russia's Denis Menchov is virtually certain to finish third in the Tour, 2 minutes 1 second behind Contador, after an excellent time trial.

Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara, the reigning world time trial champion, was the winner of the 19th stage, racing the 52-km course from Bordeaux to Pauillac in the heart of France's wine country in 1 hour 56 seconds, an impressive average speed of 51.2 kph.

German Tony Martin finished second, 17 seconds behind, with another German, Bert Grabsch, placing third, at 1 minute 48 seconds.

The course offered a view of many of France's noblest vineyards and the chateaux, or castles, which give the wines their names.

Russia's Sergei Ivanov was so impressed by the view that he actually stopped in the middle of the race to admire two splendid castles. He finished nearly 11 minutes behind Cancellara.

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