Alberto Contador confirmed his status as leader of the Tour de France with a fine victory in the race against the clock around Lake Annecy. The Spaniard increased his leading margin, moving to over four minutes ahead of Andy Schleck, while his team-mate Lance Armstrong moved up from fourth overall to third. Only two riders finished the stage at an average speed faster than 50km/h â Contador and the runner-up in Annecy, Fabian Cancellara. The first yellow jersey wearer of the 96th Tour finished just three second shy of victory on a day when the leader of the Astana team absolutely confirmed his status. The Boss is back, but the champion of 2007 is in complete control of the race.
The Progress Report
The 18th stage of the Tour de France began at 11.10am with the âLanterne Rougeâ, Hutarovich (FDJ) the first man to start the 40.5km time trial around Lake Annecy. He was last in the opening time trial and, after the retirement of Kenny van Hummel (because of a crash in stage 17), the Belorussian is last in general classification. The weather was mild at the start with temperatures of 24 degrees Celsius, but the overcast conditions early in the day soon gave way to bright sunshine and temperatures in the early 30s.
Ignatievâs Fine Early Standard
The junior world champion from the time trial in 2002, Ignatiev (KAT) set the early standard, leading at every check and finishing the course in 49.83km/h. He was the 19th rider to start the stage and not even the world champion Bert Grabsch (THR) could get within a minute of the Russianâs time. Not even Cancellara could beat the Tour debutant: at the first two intermediate time checks the Olympic champion was 18â slower than Ignatiev; he pulled back 11 seconds by the 28.5km mark and by the finish he had edged ahead, covering the course in 50.051km/hâŠ 12â faster than the Russian.
Rain Starts To Fall An Hour Before Contadorâs Start
With 19 riders yet to start the time trial, rain started falling in Annecy. But the showers didnât last long and the road only got wet in patches along the course but it was dry by the time the GC riders began their race. Evans (SIL) was one rider who improved considerably the further the race progressed. He was 16th at the first check, 1â07â behind Ignatiev, but by the top of the climb he was ranked 5th, 27â behind the Russian. The same applied to Moreau (AGR) who was ninth when he passed the first check but second â 7â behind Ignatiev â at the top of the climb. Evans ended up 1â11â behind Cancellara while Moreau was even better, 42â behind.
The Charge Of The GC BrigadeâŠ
Wiggins blitzed the first 18km at an average speed of 53.114km/h. He beat Ignatievâs time by one second but then came the charge of the yellow jersey. Contador surpassed everyone, riding the first 18km, 18â faster than Wiggins. Only at the 25km mark did Contador not set the fastest time; Ignatiev remained steadfast in the least at that point of the race but the yellow jersey was fastest everywhere else. The threat of rain never eventuated and Contador was 30â ahead of Wiggins at the top of the climb and 15â ahead of Cancellara at 37km. He would fade a little in the finale but the Spaniard was still able to win the stage by just three seconds. Only two men finished the 40.5km course with an average speed faster than 50km/h. Contador and Cancellara are the fastest time trial riders in the Tour only this time their positions from the opening stage were reversed and Contador claimed his second stage victory this year.
Andy Schleck was 21st in the stage but he retains his second place on GC albeit with a greater deficit than before. The best young rider is now 4â11â behind Alberto Contador. Lance Armstrong was 16th in the stage but is now ranked third overall.
Second in the last day in the Alps and in first place overall, Alberto Contador still has more to achieve in the 2009 Tour. He increased his lead over Andy Schleck to over four minutes and claimed his second stage victory this year. But the Ventoux awaitsâŠ
âI was ready for this performance. Itâs not a surprise for me. Yesterday everyone in the team thought I was going to win the time trial stage but I was not sure at all. I knew there was a possibility to do so but I wanted to continue putting time into my rivals. Now we will have to continue to defend the yellow jersey and the race is far from being finished.
âWe must absolutely make not mistakes on the climb of Mont Ventoux. I feel good, except that after 40km, my legs hurt but this is normal. This victory was very important but we still need to stay focused."
The leader of the youth classification Andy Schleck lost a bit of ground to the rider in the yellow jersey and winner of the stage 18 time trial but the young rider from Luxembourg retains his second place overall even after finishing 21st in the race around Lake Annecy.
âItâs still not all over. Weâre still going to be active on the Ventoux. We want to have two Schlecks on the podium in Paris â thatâs the goal of the team and we havenât given up yet. Frank kind of expected to lose a bit of time today and maybe his third place position that he earned yesterday. Thatâs happened but anywayâŠ heâs still in excellent shape and personally, I think I did a good time trial today and now weâre fully focused on Saturday.
âA lot of people have been telling me that my ride today was a good defense of my position on GC. I havenât seen too much but I have seen Contadorâs time and I know he didnât catch me, I think I did a good time trial. Once again today Iâm impressed by Albertoâs performance; to win a time trial like that, in the yellow jersey, is proof that heâs the strongest right now.
âIn the race today, I had great information from Bjarne [Riis] who was behind me. Apparently he was in contact with Kim [Anderson] who was following Frank and the appraisal was that Frank did âa good time trialâ and Bjarne said I did âan excellent time trialâ. If Bjarne says âexcellentâ then it really means something.â
Lance Armstrong finished the 18th stage in 16th place but he’s back in the top three overall. The new top five in the general classification - which is dominated by dual stage winner, Alberto Contador - is as follows:
1. Alberto Contador (ESP) AST
2. Andy Schleck (LUX) SAX - at 4’11"
3. Lance Armstrong (USA) AST - at 5’25"
4. Bradley Wiggins (GBR) GRM - at 5’36"
5. Andreas Kloden (GER) AST - at 5’38"
Only two riders completed the 40.5km course at over 50km/h. Alberto Contador is now 4’11" ahead of Andy Schleck in the general classification.
The rider in the yellow jersey has increased his lead in the general classification. Alberto Contador is the winner of the 18th stage, beating the Olympic time trial champion Fabian Cancellara by three seconds!
At the fourth check Contador is 15" faster than any other rider. At the current rate, the rider in the yellow jersey is going to win the stage - it will be his third stage victory at the Tour de France.
Frank Schleck has arrived at the finish 2’31" behind his team-mate Fabian Cancellara.