Eurosport - Thu, 22 Jul 16:14:00 2010
Alberto Contador moved closer to retaining the Tour de France as he crossed Andy Schleck over the line at the top of the Col du Tourmalet.
Spaniard Contador retained his eight-second advantage over his Luxembourg rival following the last Pyrenees stage which finished at one of the race's most famous summits.
Schleck, second behind the Spaniard in the Tour last year, is weaker in time trials and the Astana rider will be a massive favourite to extend his advantage in Saturday's pivotal 52km time trial between Bordeaux and Pauillac.
To see the race decided on the slopes of the Tourmalet, the first mountain featured in the race a century ago, is probably what the organisers had in mind and so it transpired.
The top two riders went head-to-head for the last 10km of the 18.6km ascent of the Tourmalet, the concluding stanza of the 174km 17th stage from Pau.
The 25-year-old from Saxo Bank led his rival virtually the whole way up the climb but despite hammering out a vicious tempo, he was unable to drop Contador who briefly attacked with 4km remaining but otherwise was content to sit on Schleck's wheel.
They passed through the fog at the 2115m summit side-by-side although Contador, who gained the yellow jersey after Schleck suffered a mechanical problem on stage 15, did not contest the victory to give the man in the white jersey his second stage win in this year's race.
But that is likely to be small consolation for Schleck who lost 1:44 to Contador in the Annecy time trial last year.
Despite a crash after 24km, Samuel Sanchez was part of a chase group that followed the elite pair up the highest paved col in the French Pyrenees and he left Denis Menchov in the final metres to stretch his lead to 21 seconds over the Russian in the battle for the final podium place.
The remaining members of that group complete the top 10 on GC with Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Robert Gesink retaining their overall positions, Joaquin Rodriguez and Ryder Hesjedal moving up while Roman Kreuziger and Chris Horner jump into the top 10 at the expense of Levi Leipheimer and Alexandre Vinokourov.
They crossed two classic first mountain passes, Marie-Blanque and Soulor, ahead but their break soon become a moot point as Schleck's Saxo Bank set a relentless pace on the run-in to the Tourmalet.
They peeled off one by one before Schleck's attack halfway up the final climb of this year's race and only Contador could follow.
The 29-year-old from Madrid was stout in his defence of the maillot jaune and now looks destined to claim his third Tour de France title in Paris on Sunday.
Anthony Charteau will become the 12th Frenchman to win the mountain classification if he finishes on the Champs-Elysees after retaining his polka dot jersey.Lee Walker / Eurosport