Contador’s chances of repeating Tour triumph recede

An epic final Alpine stage of the 2011 Tour de France saw Andy Schleck take the race leader’s yellow jersey as defending champion Alberto Contador’s hopes of a fourth title came to an end.

Contador, racing for Saxo Bank-SunGard, failed to gain enough time on Andy and Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek) during yesterday’s 109.5km 19th stage from Modane Valfrejus to Alpe-d’Huez to make victory after today’s time-trial in Grenoble an unrealistic ambition for the Spaniard. The two brothers from Luxembourg now top the general classification with Australian Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) in third place and tipped to take the yellow jersey before tomorrow’s ride into Paris.

And Contador was beaten to victory in yesterday’s stage by Pierre Rolland (Europcar) with Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) second, 14 seconds behind, with Contador another nine seconds further adrift.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The two Schlecks were in a group 57secs behind along with Evans as France’s Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) relinquished his 10-day hold on the maillot jaune.

Contador began the day four minutes 44 seconds behind Voeckler and 4mins 29secs adrift of Andy Schleck.

Andy Schleck now holds a 53-second lead over his brother Frank Schleck in the overall rankings, with Australian Evans lurking 57 seconds behind, the trio all leapfrogging Voeckler, who finished 3:22 behind yesterday in 20th and now sits fourth overall, 2:10 adrift.

Evans is the superior time-trial rider and was content merely to mark the Schleck brothers throughout the day.

Today’s penultimate 42.5km run against the clock in Grenoble will likely decide the winner of the maillot jaune, with tomorrow’s final stage to Paris traditionally one for the sprinters.

It is unlikely to be Contador after a valiant but ultimately doomed bid yesterday.

The Spaniard’s participation in the race is highly-controversial as he is next month the subject of a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing into his positive drugs test at last year’s Tour.

Andy Schleck wore the yellow jersey for six days in 2010 before losing the Tour title to Contador by 39 seconds. The 26-year-old from Luxembourg marked Contador in the early part of the day before allowing the Spaniard to burst clear on the final climb.

Contador was the long-time leader and even had to swat away a spectator in full surgical dress before he was overtaken by Rolland and Sanchez.

He is now 3:55 behind Andy Schleck, with Evans the real danger to the Luxembourg rider.

Points classification leader Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) rolled in as part of a large group, 25:26 behind. The time limit was set at 25:09 and it could be that Cavendish and the rest of the grupetto are docked 20 points as they were on Thursday.

The good news for Cavendish is that his nearest rival Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) was also in the grupetto and if a points penalty is implemented by race organisers the Manxman will retain his 15-point lead.