Tour de France 2010
Start: 3 July, Rotterdam Finish: 25 July, Paris
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Andy Schleck acknowledges Alberto Contador after their duel up the Tourmalet
Alberto Contador clung to the wheel of Andy Schleck up the final major climb of this year's Tour de France to remain on course to retain his crown.
The defending champion held a lead of eight seconds over the Luxembourger, who was unable to shake off his rival up the 15.5km of the Col du Tourmalet.
Schleck's attack with 10km left of the 174km stage from Pau left the rest of the overall contenders in his wake.
He took the Stage 17 win but Contador finished right up with his rival.
It leaves the Spaniard in pole position for overall victory with Friday likely to be a day for the sprinters ahead of Saturday's time trial, in which Contador is considered a superior practitioner.
It is only eight seconds so anything is possible
But Schleck refused to give up on his chances of overall victory.
"I am going to try to do a pretty fast time trial," he said. "I am motivated and I have never been in as good condition before.
"I don't want to sound arrogant but Alberto and I are both at a level above the others. I think it is between him and me now.
"He [Contador] is a better time trialist but is is only eight seconds and I will keep fighting until the end. Last year I was four minutes behind but now it is only eight seconds so anything is possible."
Schleck waited until 10km left of the 15.5km climb up the Tourmalet to make his move, immediately leaving everyone else in the main bunch, bar Contador, trailing.
The duo caught the seven-man breakaway group including Team Sky duo Juan Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson Hagen - who had opened up a nine-minute lead at one stage - within the next 2km to leave a straight fight between them in the gruelling final 8km.
Schleck repeatedly looked behind him through the mist to assess the state of Contador, who initially refused to take up the running.
The Spaniard suddenly launched an attack of his own with 3.9km remaining, but Schleck responded superbly, giving his rival a long stare when he drew alongside him again.
There is a lot of mutual respect between us
But the Luxembourger could not shake off the champion on the way to the summit, meaning he is likely to have to settle for a repeat of his runner-up finish in 2009.
"It was a good final push," said Contador. "My objective was not the stage win but the overall victory.
"The most important thing is to be first in Paris. It is not over yet but I worked very hard and the feeling couldn't be better. I am really happy.
"There is a lot of mutual respect between us. I gave everything, I'm tired, but I'm focused."
His compatriot Samuel Sanchez, who suffered a heavy fall earlier in the stage before being helped back to the bunch by his Euskaltel team, inched a further eight seconds ahead of Russian rival Denis Menchov in the battle for the third podium spot.
Britain's Bradley Wiggins, who said this week he is targeting Saturday's time trial for a stage win after a disappointing Tour, came home in 88th place, 23 minutes and 19 seconds behind Schleck, and has slipped to 24th place overall.
Stage 17 results:
1. Andy Schleck (Luxembourg/Saxo Bank) 5hrs 03mins 29s
2. Alberto Contador (Spa/Astana) same time
3. Joaquin Oliver Rodriguez (Spain/Katusha) +1'18".
4. Ryder Hesjedal (Can/Garmin) +1'27"
5. Samuel Sanchez (Spain/Euskaltel) +1'32"
6. Denis Menchov (Rus/Rabobank) + 1'40"
1. Alberto Contador (Spa/Astana) 83hrs 32mins 39secs
2. Andy Schleck (Luxembourg/Saxo Bank) +8"
3. Samuel Sanchez (Spain/Euskaltel) +3'32"
4. Denis Menchov (Rus/Rabobank) +3'53"
5. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel/Omega Pharma-Lotto) +5'27""
15. Nicolas Roche (Ire/ AG2R) +16'00"
18. Thomas Lovkvist (Swe/ Sky) +18'30"
23. Lance Armstrong (US / Radioshack) +37'58"
24. Bradley Wiggins (GB / Sky) +41'03"
26. Cadel Evans (Aus/ BMC) +45'13"
68. Geraint Thomas (GB / Sky) +2h 02'10"
153. Stephen Cummings (GB / Sky) +3h 44'19"
155. Mark Cavendish (GB / HTC-Columbia) +3h 49'32"
161. David Millar (GB / Garmin) +3h 58'09"
164. Daniel Lloyd (GB / Cervelo) +3h 58'23"
165. Jeremy Hunt (GB / Cervelo) +4h 00'18"