Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) went on the attack yet again in the Tour de France, this time on the final descent near the finish in Pinerolo of stage 17, as he continued to try to pull back every possible second on his rivals and fight for overall victory.
Contador was delayed by a crash at the very foot of the Pramartino climb but quickly regained position at the head of the peloton and made two sustained surges.
When these efforts failed to split the lead group, he charged down the twisting descent and opened a gap with fellow Spaniard Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi). That sparked a pursuit match, with the Schleck brothers and Cadel Evans (BMC) catching them just before the finish. Only Thomas Voeckler lost out, finishing 27 seconds further back, following a near-crash.
"It was a very dangerous descent. I was at the front, I saw I had a chance to attack, so I did. The important thing is to pull back time every day," Contador said of his attack.
"It was very difficult to gain time because there were a lot of riders chasing us and so it was easier for them. But it was important to try. It seems as though the Schlecks are awaiting me to attack, but I'm just riding my own race. Voeckler is a great rider and whatever time I can pull back on him is good."
Contador is now 3:15 behind the Frenchman and less than two minutes behind Evans and the Schlecks. The race is wide open as the two big Alpine stages loom large on the horizon.
Contador seems to have rediscovered his confidence and his climbing strength after the second rest day.
"I think the toughest stage is tomorrow and the final part of the Galibier is very exposed and the gradients are very demanding," he said.
"It will all depend on the direction the wind comes from. Alpe D'Huez is short and explosive but tomorrow's stage is definitely harder."
Contador was back in Italy for the first time since dominating the Giro d'Italia in May. He hopes to have the same superior form in the next two days as he tried to complete a rare Giro-Tour double.
"I'd like to be as strong as in the Giro but I'll do what I can," he said. "The other riders are very strong and we're all motivated. It will be very difficult."