Contador closing in; Armstrong in third
ANNECY, France - Alberto Contador all but assured his second Tour de France victory yesterday, winning the race’s final time trial while Lance Armstrong struggled with fatigue but moved up one spot to third place.
Contador, Armstrong’s Astana teammate and the 2007 Tour champion, increased his overall lead in the 18th stage in which cyclists rode against the clock on the 25-mile course in and around Annecy. The three-week race ends Sunday on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
Contador finished in 48 minutes 31 seconds, beating Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland by three seconds. Russia’s Mikhail Ignatiev was third, 15 seconds back.
“I went all out,’’ said Contador, adding his earpiece radio linking him to team managers stopped working during the stage and he was worried about Cancellara’s skill at time trials.
“Of course, what I especially wanted was to think about general class. A stage victory was less important,’’ he said. “I’m very happy. I didn’t expect it.’’
Armstrong was 16th, 1:30 behind. But he easily overcame a 30-second deficit to Frank Schleck, who began the day in third place but slipped to sixth after finishing 2:34 behind Contador. Armstrong had “mixed emotions’’ about his ride.
“Sixteenth in a time trial is not a good result,’’ he said. “But my ambition is to get on the podium, so I have to be happy with that.’’
Schleck and younger brother Andy had bumped Armstrong from second place to fourth a day earlier in the last punishing Alpine stage.
“I suffered,’’ Armstrong said. “I probably started too hard and maybe I was just empty from yesterday.’’
Afterward, Armstrong announced that he and Radio Shack are forming a new team that will compete in next year’s Tour. Armstrong came out of retirement this season to ride for the Kazakh-funded squad headed by his longtime mentor Johan Bruyneel.