For a while it looked like no one could beat Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara's time of 48'33" on Stage 18's individual time trial, that is until the man in yellow left the starting block. As Phil Liggett said all day, the tour leader always wants to win the final time trial and Alberto Contador probably had that in his mind when he headed out on today's course.
The Spanish time trial champion blazed through the course around Lake Annecy and finished the race three seconds faster than Cancellara, with a time of 48'30". Besides winning the stage Contador was also able to gain more time on his challengers, with Andy Schleck sitting in second by 4' 11" in the general classification.
With only two days of real racing left it seems guaranteed that Contador will be atop the podium in Paris, especially with Andy Schleck's number two spot being challenged by Contador's teammate, Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong, who rode a decent time trial, was able to gain valuable time on his competition as his two main rivals for a podium spot, Saxo Bank's Franck Schleck and Garmin-Slipstream's Bradley Wiggins, both faltered and lost time on the course.
Wiggins, a former track champion and natural against the clock, rode brilliantly until the final kilometers where he lost time. Frank Schleck, not know as a good time trial racer, finished 35th on the day.
Armstrong was able to move up to third with Wiggins only 11 seconds behind him in fourth. Frank Schleck fell from third to sixth, while Contador and Armstrong's Astana teammate, Andreas Kloden is now in fifth.
At the end of the stage Contador seemed surprised by his win, telling Reuters that he was "really not expecting this," and that he was tired from the previous day's stage.
While the Schleck brother's are not know for their ability in the time trial, Andy Schleck rode better than expected and was able to maintain his second place standing. The white jersey holder was cordial and complimentary toward Contador after the stage.
"Once again, Mr. Contador surprised me. He rode a formidable time trial. He proved he was the best," Schleck told Reuters.
Tomorrow's stage is a light mountain stage that sets up for Saturday's climax up to the summit of the famed Mont Ventoux.