What was supposed to be a coronation run for Alberto Contador in Stage 19 turned into the fight of his Tour de France career. Andy Schleck, widely expected to lose minutes to Contador in today’s 32-mile time trial, turned in one of the best TT rides of his career today. It wasn’t enough to move him back into yellow—Contador has sewn that up for the third time in his career—but it definitely made Saturday more exciting than expected.
At one point well into today’s action, Schleck was six seconds ahead of his Spanish rival, which, given his eight-second deficit in the overall, put him within two seconds of the virtual yellow jersey. He faded slightly toward the finish to lose 31 seconds to Contador, but his performance exceeded all expectations and will certainly renew debate about Contador’s tactics in the Pyrennees.
It was in those mountains that he attacked when Schleck suffered a mechanical failure—a breach of Tour protocol. Contador ended up taking 39 seconds—and the yellow jersey—from Schleck that day. With today’s result, he and leads Schleck in the overall standings by exactly 39 seconds. (Full results.)
Swiss star Fabian Cancellara won today’s stage. A three-time world champion in the time trial—as well as the winner of this year’s Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix one-day Classics—Cancellara was a heavy favorite to do so. He covered the TK-mile course in 1 hour, 56 seconds. So dominant was his win that only four riders finished within three minutes of him.
The real story, though, was the battle between Contador and Schleck. Nearly every cycling observer had completely written off Schleck’s chances. The Saxo Bank rider is one of the best climbers in the world but has never shown himself in the time trials. Contador, on the other hand, has developed into one of the best TT riders in the world and even beat Cancellara in last year’s final time trial.
He didn’t have those legs today, however. Both he and Schleck finished nearly seven minutes down on Cancellara—an indication that the close time gap between the two was as much a result of a bad day for Contador as it was a good day for Schleck. They finished 35th and 44th today, respectively.
Lance Armstrong, riding in the last meaningful Tour de France stage of his career—and riding just hours after Floyd Landis’ detailed doping allegations against him last night on "Nightline"—finished a distant 67th, 7:05 behind Cancellara. Armstrong dominated the time trials during his seven-year Tour run. Today, however, became one more forgetful day in a Tour full of them for the American veteran.
Tomorrow’s mostly ceremonial last stage into Paris will be one for the sprinters. Look for Mark Cavendish to pick up his fifth win of this year’s Tour and for Alessandro Petacchi—facing his own doping allegations back home in Italy—to hold onto the green jersey.