On a cold, rainy and generally nasty day in the Pyrenees, the final day of mountains in the 2010 Tour de France, Andy Schleck rode to victory in Stage 17, crossing the finish line at the top of the famous Col du Tourmalet just before rival Alberto Contador, who conceded the stage win to the man from Saxo Bank -- but not his eight-second overall lead in the Tour.
On the Tour's Queen day, a 108-mile ride featuring two category-one climbs and a finish atop the hors catégorie Col du Tourmalet, the mountains belonged to Schleck and Contador for the final 10km, with the two riders going head-to-head, and the man from Luxembourg desperately hoping to shake the Spaniard. But he was never able to ride away, meaning it is likely Contador's yellow jersey to lose.
"I'm satisfied with the stage win but I also wanted to turn white into yellow but unfortunately it wasn't possible. I really tried hard, you have to believe me about that. I changed rhythm and I tried everything but I think we're on the same level on the climbs. Alberto attacked and I could go with him - it was a quick response - but in the end he didn't sprint to win the stage because I did the most work. I have a lot of respect for that, it shows that he's a great champion.
"I tried to find out how he was feeling. You need to look at someone to see how he was coping. I think you can find out a lot if you look someone in the eyes. He didn't have the sunglasses on today so it was possible to see, that's why I looked so many times. But he always looked good and that's kind of what killed me.
"El Pistolero is strong, huh? I could no drop him. He was always there. I wanted to find out if he was getting weak but he didn't succumb. He even attacked me to show, ‘Hey, listen young boy, I'm still here! You better stop playing these games with me.'"
The Tour will now likely be decided on Saturday's Stage 19, a 32-mile time trial in which Schleck, who is weak in time trials, will need to make up the eight seconds (he lost 1:44 in a similar stage last year).
General Classification After Stage 17:
1. Alberto Contador, Astana
2. Andy Schleck, Saxo Bank(+ 00:08)
3. Sammy Sanchez, Euskaltel-Euskadi (+ 03:32)
4. Denis Menchov, Rabobank (+ 03:53)
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Omega Pharma-Lotto (+ 05:27)
10. Christopher Horner, Radioshack (+ 10:37)
13. Levi Leipheimer, Radioshack (+ 14:24)
23. Lance Armstrong, Radioshack (+ 37:58)
Friday's Stage 18 should mark the return of the sprinters after four days in the mountains, with a flat 123-mile ride from Salies-de-Béarn to Bordeaux in the western part of France. Bordeaux has been visited 79 times before on the Tour, second only to Paris and is typically host to some fantastic sprint finishes.
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