Contador closes in on Tour title

Sports Network

, Last Updated: 2:27 PM ET

Pauillac, France - Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland won Stage 19 of the 2010 Tour de France on Saturday, while Spain's Alberto Contador expanded his overall lead and virtually wrapped up his third title in four years with just one day remaining in cycling's most prestigious event.

Cancellara captured the individual time trial, finishing the 52-kilometer trek from Bordeaux to Pauillac in a time of one hour and 56 seconds for his seventh career Tour stage win, but it was the battle between the final two riders of the day that would decide this year's Tour champion.

Andy Schleck of Luxembourg started the day eight seconds off Contador's overall lead and took the course just in front of the Spaniard. At the first time check, Schleck was two seconds faster than Contador and managed to trim the deficit to give himself some hope.

Contador, though, dug in. He completely turned it around at the second time check, as a nine-second reversal added seven seconds to his overall lead. At the third, Contador had increased the day's margin to 17 seconds for an overall advantage of 25 seconds.

Schleck crossed the finish line in a time of 1:07:10 and in 44th place for the day. Contador placed 35th in the stage with a time of 1:06:39 and now has an overall cushion of 39 seconds with the Tour set to conclude Sunday with a ceremonial ride along the Champs Elysees in Paris.

"This was not my best day and I had doubts, but I won [the title]," said Contador. "A time trial at the Tour de France, it is never a race like any other. I am very excited because it was a victory that was difficult to attain. It had not been easy in 2007 and last year, but it's unbelievable. It's a huge relief."

Schleck, who will win the title as the top young rider for the third time, will finish second overall for the second consecutive year. He bettered last year's effort when he wound up four minutes and 11 seconds behind Contador.

This year's expected 39-second margin will be the fifth-closest in Tour history.

"Everybody was saying that I was beaten before today's stage, but I said I wouldn't give up and I tried everything today and I got pretty close," noted Schleck. "I'm satisfied with today and the whole Tour. I don't care what the time difference is. What counts is what place you have at the end, and Alberto was just better than me this year, but I'll be back. I've won another white jersey [best young rider], two stages and I believe it's been pretty successful Tour for the whole team."

Schleck, of course, held the leader's yellow jersey until this past Monday when a dropped chain late during Stage 15 in the Pyrenees cost him and caused a bit of controversy.

"I made no mistakes," Schleck continued. "I do regret that I dropped the chain the other day, but still he would have won by two seconds and I can't go back on that."

Denis Menchov of Russia won the battle for third place with Spain's Samuel Sanchez. Menchov, who was 21 seconds behind Sanchez entering Saturday's stage, finished 11th in the time trial and a full two minutes ahead of Sanchez.

Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, in what the Texan says is his last Tour de France, will finish 23rd overall.


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