Andy Schleck took the stage finish atop the Col du Tourmalet but will require a miracle if he is to usurp the yellow jersey of Alberto Contador after today’s epic stage 17 of the Tour de France.
Schleck trailed his rival by just eight seconds going into this, the queen stage of the Tour but could not shake off the Spaniard as the duo battled it out on the perilously steep climb towards the finish.
Irishman Nicholas Roche finished a fabulous 11th place, three minutes and 27 seconds behind Schleck.
Roche trundled over the line on his own ahead of many of the more established Tour riders and moved from 18th on the General Classification up to 15th. He now lies 16 minutes off the yellow jersey.
Stage 17, the summit finish atop the Col du Tourmalet was always billed as the day when the Tour would be decided-and so it proved, while for Roche, it signified the last place where he could potentially improve on his 18th place as the remaining stages are relatively flat and not suited to long distance breakaways.
The Tourmalet, preceded by the equally tough Col du Soulor and the Col de Marie Blanc wreaked havoc with the peloton but Roche dug deep on the perilously steep hors categorie climb, clinging like a limpet to the wheels of better placed GC riders Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
The Dubliner swung off the diminished front group of just eight riders approaching the final few bends but did enough to move up three places and give himself a great chance of finishing in the top 15. His time-trialling on Saturday’s penultimate stage will be crucial as a 52 kilometre test against the clock is an area where he has fallen down in the past.
Tomorrow the riders will have a somewhat easier day as they depart the Pyrenees for a relatively flat 198 kilometre stage to Bordeaux.
1 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 5:03:29
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:00:00
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
11 Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) 0:03:27
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
16 Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale)