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(Reuters) - Alberto Contador let rival Andy Schleck win the Tour de France's showpiece stage at the top of the fog-covered Tourmalet on Thursday in the knowledge he had a firm grip on his third title.

The pair left the rest behind in the last ascent to the Pyrenees summit and embraced after crossing the line in the 174-km 17th stage.

Schleck's second stage win in the Tour was sweet consolation for the Luxembourg rider, who faces the near-impossible task of trying to beat the defending champion in Saturday's 52-km time trial.

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Stage 17 Results
1 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank - 5:03:29
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana
3 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha - 0:01:18
4 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions - 0:01:27
5 Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi - 0:01:32
6 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank - 0:01:40
7 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
8 Christopher Horner (USA) Team Radioshack - 0:01:45
9 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto - 0:01:48
10 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo - 0:02:14


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General classification after Stage 17
1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana - 83:32:39
2 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank - 0:00:08
3 Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi - 0:03:32
4 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank - 0:03:53
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto - 0:05:27
6 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank - 0:06:41
7 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha - 0:07:03
8 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions - 0:09:18
9 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo - 0:10:12
10 Christopher Horner (USA) Team Radioshack - 0:10:37


Full results here..


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Jersey Standings:
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Alberto Contador
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Thor Hushovd
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Anthony Charteau
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Andy Schleck

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Links to news sites...

"Deja vu on Tourmalet for yellow jersey pair
By Justin Davis (AFP) -

PAU, France - Tour de France challenger Andy Schleck revealed Wednesday he met yellow jersey rival Alberto Contador during spring training on the mountain pass that could decide this year's yellow jersey.

The Col du Tourmalet, which has featured only once as a summit finish, will host the final climbing stage of the Tour on Thursday's 17th stage which Contador will start with an eight-second lead on Schleck.

It was while training on the Tourmalet during the spring that Luxembourg climbing specialist Schleck happened to bump into Contador, a "coincidence" which he said will take on a different meaning on Thursday.

"He was going up one side followed by journalists, and I was coming up the other followed by journalists too," explained Schleck.

"We met at the top, and I said to him: 'When we meet next time here the circumstances will be completely different'. It was a funny moment."

Known to be friends off the bike as well as bitter rivals on it, Schleck and Contador had a falling out on Monday after the Spaniard attacked the Luxemburger just before he suffered a mechanical problem with his gears." Read more from the AFP...

"Schleck wins Tour battle; war may be Contador's
By NAOMI KOPPEL (AP) -

COL DU TOURMALET, France - Defending champion Alberto Contador can't quite sit back and enjoy his third victory in the Tour de France - he still has to ride a time-trial - but on Friday he will happily let the spotlight fall on the race's sprinters.

Contador did the hard work a day earlier, sticking with his biggest rival Andy Schleck and retaining the leader's yellow jersey in Thursday's 17th stage, even if Schleck finally won the day atop the famed Col du Tourmalet.

Contador maintained his eight-second edge over the Luxembourg rider, a lead that is expected to widen when the Spaniard tackles a discipline that is his specialty: Saturday's time-trial.

Schleck had estimated he needed to open at least a one-minute lead on Contador, but failed to pick up any time in the final mountain stage of this year's race.

Friday's 18th stage is completely different, and offers no opportunity for either rider to gain ground on the other over a flat 123-mile trek from Salies-de-Bearn to Bordeaux.

The first of the major jerseys has been decided - Anthony Charteau of France is the King of the Mountains - and Schleck has the white jersey for best young rider all but locked up. Friday will give a big indication of who's going to win the green jersey as best sprinter.

Thor Hushovd of Norway currently holds that distinction, ahead of Italy's Alessandro Pettachi, with Mark Cavendish of Britain also in the hunt for the stage win and hoping to claim the green in Paris.

Hushovd has one stage win already, Pettacchi two and Cavendish three. But it's not just about winning stages - there are points for lower positions, and for intermediate sprints during the race." Read more from the AP...

"Schleck takes stage win atop Col du Tourmalet
By Les Clarke

Coppi and Bartali, Anquetil and Poulidor, Armstrong and Ullrich... now there's Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck. The talented duo today showed that they are head and shoulders ahead of the Tour de France peloton with a masterful display on the slopes of the col du Tourmalet. While Schleck took stage honours it was Contador who will remain in yellow, the likelihood of wearing it into Paris now even stronger.

Side-by-side, like the great rivals of yesteryear, Schleck and Contador battled over the final 10km of today's 174km parcours, having watched each other closely over the col de Marie-Blanque and col du Soulor, the first category climbs that punctuated proceedings on a misty day in the Pyrenees.

With the weather helping create a mood of forboding, all eyes were on the pair as they hit the final significant climb of this year's Tour de France. While there weren't the expected fireworks, there was a touching embrace as the two riders hit the finish line in the top two places - despite the talk of foul play after stage 15 there remains a mutual respect that should be the backbone of this sporting relationship for years to come.

For Contador, the spoils of staying with his rival up the Tourmalet's slopes is the maillot jaune while Schleck can finish on Sunday safe in the knowledge he may not have done enough to take the title - provided a significant performance in the time trial is not forthcoming - but he's got two stage wins and the potential to go all the way one day." Read more from Cyclingnews.com...