Tour de France 2010, Stage 17: Winning and losing at the same time

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Our man Andy Schleck gave it his all up the punishing slopes of Tourmalet in today’s Stage 17 of the 2010 Tour de France. But while it was enough to win the stage, Schleck wound up with nothing to show for it in the overall standings against rival Alberto Contador.

Schleck simply could not shake Contador, who sucked wheel for kilometer after kilometer. That’s all he had to do, and it was not the way a champion wins a Tour. But Contador did not look like he had the kick to drop Schleck — he tried once, without success — so shadowing was the only realistic alternative.

If all goes according to expectations, Contador will win the 97th Tour de France in Paris on Sunday. Schleck will probably be second, although the day-before time trial could press him.

In any case, Andy can be congratulated for leaving it all on the pave this year.

As for Contador, the squeaky-voiced Spaniard remains a question-mark in the charisma department. Today’s ride proves that he will deserve the title, but only if he increases his 8-second lead during Saturday’s time trial. Psychologically, he will have to win the Tour by at least 40 seconds to erase the stain of Stage 15’s attack while Schleck was disabled by a thrown chain. (You can make the case, in fact, that Contador will have to win by at least a minute, due to the overall down time Schleck suffered.)

Today’s bottom line: Andy pushed, Contador followed. For the former, it was heroism. For the latter, it was classic Tour strategy. Each racer both won and lost today, but in different ways.

Schleck may not win the Tour, but he’s won the world cycling community’s heart. Ultimately, that may count for more.

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