COL DU TOURMALET, France — Andy Schleck of Luxembourg won Stage 17 of the 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.
Not far behind was Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria. The Garmin-Transitions cyclist finished fourth in the stage and moved to eighth in the overall classification, nine minutes and 18 seconds behind Contador.
“It’s unreal,” he told his team’s website. “I knew I had good legs on the rest day and wanted to do a good showing today. Job done!”
Contador needed only to mark Schleck throughout Thursday’s stage and did so to maintain his overall margin of eight seconds.
“I could not drop him. He was always there,” Schleck said. “I wanted to find out if he was getting weak, but he didn’t succumb.”
Schleck completed the 174-km ride from Pau to the Col du Tourmalet through fog and mist — and a number of male spectators in Borat-inspired bathing suits — in a time of five hours, three minutes and 29 seconds for his second stage win of this year’s Tour. He also had captured Stage 8. Contador finished with the same time.
Friday’s 18th stage is a 198-km flat jaunt from Salies-de-Bearn to Bordeaux and Saturday features an individual time trial. Schleck likely will 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 kilo–meters 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.
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.
— Sun wire services/QMI Agency