Contador holds off Schlecks
Frank Schleck won stage 17 of the Tour de France in Le Grand-Bornand but Alberto Contador finished second to retain the yellow jersey.
Last Updated: 04/08/09 5:25pm
Saxo Bank's Frank Schleck earned victory on stage 17 of the Tour de France after a gruelling day of attack and counter-attack in the Alps.
The 196.5-kilometre route took the riders over four category one climbs, perfect terrain for Frank, and younger brother Andy, to challenge Alberto Contador's hold on the yellow jersey.
The Luxembourg brothers tried their best to break Contador on the final two climbs, the Col de Romme and Col de la Colombiere.
But the Spaniard was equal to the challenge, even putting in a burst of his own that dropped his Astana team-mate Andreas Kloeden and slimmed down the lead group to just himself and the Schleck brothers.
The trio worked together on the descent into Le Grand-Bornand, Frank Schleck taking the final sprint to the line as all three came home in the same time.
"We had nothing to lose this morning," said the elder Schleck, who also won a stage of the Tour de France at Alpe d'Huez in 2006.
"We staked everything on launching those attacks. It was a bit risky but at the end of the day you have to take risks to benefit."
Contador crossed the line second to retain the Maillot Jaune, with Andy Schleck now his closest rival, two minutes and 26 seconds adrift in the general classification.
Frank Schleck is up to third in the GC with Astana's Lance Armstrong and Bradley Wiggins of Garmin both dropping out of podium spots.
Armstrong, nevertheless, produced an impressive late burst to finish fifth on the day, arriving together with fourth-placed Vincenzo Nibali, two minutes and 18 seconds adrift of the leading trio.
Kloeden, who imploded in the closing few kms, crawled home in fifth, nine seconds after Armstrong, while British hope Wiggins lost three minutes and nine seconds to drop down to sixth overall.
A 22-man breakaway had shaped up in the opening climb to the Cormet de Roselend, with Norway's Thor Hushovd going solo on the descent to snatch precious points for the green jersey classification. He now has an almost unassailable lead of 30 points over Britain's Mark Cavendish.
Saxo Bank assumed pace making duties on the Col des Saisies and swiftly started shedding riders, including Cadel Evans, the runner-up in the last two years.
Defending champion Carlos Sastre attacked at foot of the Col de Romme, an 8.8-km ascent at an average gradient of 8.9 percent, with a part at 12.3 percent.
Sastre, however, failed to keep up with the favourites and was eventually dropped as the Schleck brothers took it in turns at the front.
The relentless pace eventually wore down Armstrong and Wiggins, but Contador proved unbreakable and is now strong favourite to earn his second Tour de France triumph in Paris on Sunday.
The Tour continues on Thursday with a 40.5 km individual time-trial around Annecy.
Stage 17 result:
1 F Schleck (Luxembourg / Saxo Bank ) 4hrs 53mins 54secs
2 A Contador (Spain/Astana) ST
3 A Schleck (Luxembourg/Saxo Bank)
4 V Nibali (Italy/Liquigas) +2:18"
5 L Armstrong (US/Astana)
6 A Kloeden (Germany/Astana) +2:27"
7 B Wiggins (Britain/Garmin) +3:07"
8 C Moreau (France/Agritubel) +4:09"
9 C Vande Velde (US/Garmin)
10 R Pauriol (France/Cofidis) +6:10"
1 A Contador (Spain/Astana) 72hrs 27mins 09secs
2 A Schleck (Luxembourg/Saxo Bank) +2:26"
3 F Schleck (Luxembourg/Saxo Bank) +3:25"
4 L Armstrong (US/Astana) +3:55"
5 A Kloeden (Germany/Astana) +4:44"