The twentieth day of racing in the Tour de France (Friday July 23rd, 2010). Stage 18 – Salies-de-Béarn Bordeaux. This stage was 198 km. The journey north on this very flat stage included two intermediate sprints – in Castelnau-Chalosse (at 29.5km) and Hostens (150.5km). There were no climbs on a day when the conditions were mild with temperatures in the mid-20s at the start. It was a stage designed for the sprinters, and they did not let it go to waste. Although there was an early breakway, it did not last. Mark Cavendish won his fourth stage this year – and a 14th at the Tour de France over the last few years. Petacchi replaces Hushovd as the leader of the points classification for the green jersey. Cavendish’s fourth victory this year puts him just 16 points away from the green jersey. Alberto Contador will wear the yellow jersey and be the last rider to start the time trial of stage 19.
The twenty first day of racing in the Tour de France (Saturday July 24th, 2010). Stage 19 – Bordeaux Pauillac. This stage was 52 km and the INDIVIDUAL TIME TRIAL! This time trial has been looked upon for most of the tour this year as potentially (and now absolutely) the deciding factor between the 1st and 2nd place riders (Contador and Shleck) and who takes the yellow jersey in Paris. It also has become the deciding factor in the race for 3rd place between Menchov and S. Sanchez. The consensus was that Alberto Contador would be able to hold on to his yellow jersey with ease after the 19th stage time trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac. This was the appraisal based on the history of Andy Schleck’s performances in races against the clock. Yet, Andy Schleck would ride better than expected andContsador much worse. Contador looked like he was struggling for the entire race – gritting his teeth, weaving back and forth (instead of riding a hard straight line), and constantly readjusting his seating position (constantly pushing back on his seat). This was definitely a bad day in the saddle for Alberto Contador.
Andy Schleck was able to pull two seconds out of Contador’s overall advantage after 18.2km – Schleck was 23rd and Contador 27th at the first time check. He then picked up the pace and with 30km to go, Schleck was ahead of Contador by five seconds. That was the maximum gain he made before the Spaniard clawed his way back to equal terms – and then into the lead. It wasn’t until the 7km to go mark that it seemed certain that Schleck would not take over the lead of the general classification. He got to within three seconds of the yellow jersey but then ‘El Pistolero’ confirmed that he is the finest cyclist of his generation. He may not have won a stage in the 2010 Tour but he has finished 39” ahead of Schleck, making it the fifth closest Tour in history.
Neither Contador nor Schleck were ever in contention for the stage win – that would be the domain of the TT dominator – World and Olympic champion, Fabian Cancellara. Also, third place S. Sanchez lost almost two minutes to D. Menchov in the time trial, confirming the battle for the third podium spot in Paris to Menchov. Contador rides to Paris as the 2010 Tour champion, and Andy Schleck will become the second rider to win the youth classification (White jersey) three times as he is poised to finish second overall for the second successive season. The battle is still on for the Green jersey.