Contador Surges to the Lead

By Jon Brand
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, July 20, 2009

VERBIER, Switzerland, July 19 -- The Tour de France moved into the Swiss Alps on Sunday, and with it came the usual promise of spectacle.

After a week of relatively flat stages, showcasing sprint finishes and long breakaways by non-contenders, the mention of mountain battles was enough to make even the veteran Lance Armstrong excited.

But under stunningly blue skies, a few light clouds and snowcapped peaks, it was Alberto Contador, Armstrong's Astana teammate, who instantly delivered.

With 5.6 kilometers left of the 207.5-km ride on a tough uphill climb into Verbier, the Spaniard accelerated away from a breakaway group filled with general classification contenders to claim Stage 15 decisively and move into the yellow jersey.

In his wake were a talented bunch, including Armstrong and Astana teammate Andréas Klöden, as well as Saxo Bank's Andy Schleck and Garmin-Slipstream's Bradley Wiggins.

But despite their talent, Contador could not be caught.

He finished the stage in 5 hours 3 minutes 58 seconds. That time was 43 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Schleck, a 24-year-old Luxembourger considered one of the sport's new stars.

"In the end I managed to do what I wanted to make the difference," said Contador, winner of the 2007 Tour. "If I wanted to leave my rivals behind me in the standings, that was the only way I could do it."

Armstrong, who didn't respond to Contador's mountain attack for the second time this Tour, rode across the finish line 1:35 behind his 26-year-old teammate.

The Texan is now second in the overall classification, 1:37 back of Contador.

"He was the best in the race," Armstrong told reporters at the finish line. "We were all at the limit, and he was able to accelerate again."

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