COL DU TOURMALET, France -- Andy Schleck of Luxembourg won Stage 17 of the 2010 Tour de France on Thursday, edging overall leader Alberto Contador of Spain at the top of the Col du Tourmalet, but the defending champion still owns an eight-second lead heading into the final three days of cycling's most prestigious event.
The two leaders raced side-by-side up the steep climb on the last day in the Pyrenees and the final mountain stage in this year's Tour. With a difference of just eight seconds separating the two after Wednesday's rest day, Contador needed only to mark Schleck throughout Thursday's stage and did so to maintain his overall margin.
"I could not drop him. He was always there," said Schleck. "I wanted to find out if he was getting weak, but he didn't succumb."
Schleck finished the 174-kilometer ride from Pau to the Col du Tourmalet through fog and mist in a time of five hours, three minutes and 29 seconds for his second stage win of this year's Tour. He also captured Stage 8. Contador finished with the same time.
Friday's 18th stage is a 198-kilometer flat jaunt from Salies-de-Bearn to Bordeaux and Saturday features an individual time trial. Schleck will likely have his last chance to overtake Contador on Saturday before Sunday's traditional ride along the Champs Elysees in Paris.
After the peloton settled in behind the lead pack early on Thursday, Schleck tried to distance himself from Contador heading up the final climb. Contador, however, kept up and the two eventually were the only riders in front toward the top of the celebrated ascent.
Contador made an attack with just under four kilometers remaining, but Schleck was able to follow and moved slightly in front. Schleck continued driving toward the top, but was unable to drop Contador and the two hit the wire together -- Schleck about a half-length in front.
"I really tried hard, you have to believe me about that," added Schleck. "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."
The gap from the top two riders to third place has increased dramatically, as Spain's Samuel Sanchez is now 3:32 behind Contador. He was just two minutes behind entering Thursday's stage.