Beyond the Peloton

July 22, 2010 9:29 AM

Contador's Fashionable Victory

It's not often when one can win - and win big - by finishing second. But that's exactly what Alberto Contador managed to accomplish in Thursday's Stage 17.

Contador didn't win the stage - Andy Schleck nicked him at the finish line. But it's that very act that made him the big winner. And oh, by the way, he has also just about wrapped up his third Tour de France victory in four years.

103035394-430x296.jpgAs expected, the epic Stage 17 up the rugged western side of the Col du Tourmalet turned into a personal battle between the Tour's two best riders (two years running). Through fog and mist, Schleck and Contador obliterated the field. They left the peloton behind at the bottom of the Tourmalet and then picked off the breakaway pack one by one.

Schleck rode hard and set the pace, but he never came close to shake Contador. The defending champ made one attack, but Schleck caught up quickly without much difficulty. After that, the duo took a much deserved victory lap, with Contador not even contesting the finish, allowing Schleck his moment of glory.

That, more than his words of contrition, repaired Contador's reputation, which was tarnished by his questionable attack when Schleck's chain came off during Stage 15. Unlike Contador-Armstrong, Contador-Schleck is a friendly rivalry, and it was evident Contador was shaken by Schleck's angry words after that stage and the public's overwhelmingly negative reaction.

In retrospect, Contador really didn't need to gain those 39 seconds with that attack. He could've burnished his legacy by insisting to the other riders to slow down and allow Schleck to catch up. But at the time, Contador himself was compromised by doubt, and his ill-considered decision gave him the maillot jaune, but not the honor the jersey customarily bestows upon the wearer.

Contador perhaps regained that on Thursday. He not only answered Schleck's every challenge, he also proved himself a worthy sportsman. All that's left for him is locking up the victory in Saturday's individual time trial and let his legend grow.

Stage 18 Preview (Salies-de-Bearn to Bordeaux)

At long last, the sprinters get to come out to play, after spending a brutal week in the mountains. The completely flat stage will be suited for a great sprint finish. With only this and the final stage to contest for the sprint, no breakaway will be allowed to succeed. The GC riders will mostly sit back and stay away from trouble.

Prediction: Mark Cavendish. No one will be happier to see the flat roads than the Manx Missile. He doesn't have his lead-out man anymore, but he's got enough motor (human edition) to out-sprint anybody. Thor Hushovd and Alessandro Petacchi will be looking out for each other in the tight race for the green jersey.

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