Where the Tour was won

Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), Alberto Contador (Astana) and Denis Menchov (Rabobank) on the podium in Paris

Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), Alberto Contador (Astana) and Denis Menchov (Rabobank) on the podium in Paris (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)

The battle for the 2010 Tour de France maillot jaune boiled down to a fiercely contested endeavor between two men: defending champion Alberto Contador (Astana) and 2009 runner-up Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank). Cyclingnews has identified eight key stages in this year's Tour which proved pivotal in a battle which will be talked about for years to come.

Former Team CSC and Team Sky directeur sportif Scott Sunderland provided daily analysis of the racing for Cyclingnews. Here he gives his opinion on the eight key stages of the race and on how Alberto Contador managed to defeat Andy Schleck to win his third Tour de France.

Prologue: Rotterdam, 8.9km

Alberto Contador's 2010 Tour began in a fine fashion as the two-time champion bested nearly every general classification rival in the opening race against the clock. Only Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) faired better, finishing five seconds faster than the Spaniard, while 2009 Tour runner-up Andy Schleck had a disappointing 122nd place finish - 1:09 down on teammate Fabian Cancellara's winning effort, but more importantly a whopping 42 seconds down on Contador.

Scott Sunderland: "The Tour de France is never decided by the time gained or lost in the prologue but it is an important stage and Alberto Contador definitely left Rotterdam with an important psychological advantage. It is something Miguel Indurain and Lance Armstrong always tried to achieve and Contador landed a similar early body blow."

"Andy Schleck was probably still weary of going flat out on wet roads after crashing the week before and losing 42 seconds like that must have worried him. I was surprised he actually lost so much. But I also knew he would fight back and realised we were set for a great fight between the two of them."

Stage and GC
1. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) 0:10:00
6. Alberto Contador (Astana) @0:27
122. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) @1:09

Advantage: Contador by 42 seconds

Stage 2: Brussels-Spa, 201km

Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) soloed to victory and into the yellow jersey in Spa. The peloton, however, rolled in nearly four minutes later in a 'go-slow' protest of the treacherous conditions on the Côte de Stockeu descent 33km from the finish, rendered dangerously slick by rain.

While Alberto Contador emerged relatively unscathed from the stage, Andy Schleck crashed twice on the Côte de Stockeu descent but was able to regain contact with the peloton as maillot jaune Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) organised the protest and effectively neutralised racing for all but solo leader Chavanel.

Scott Sunderland: "There has been a lot of debate about this stage and if it was right for the peloton to wait for the Schleck bothers instead of racing hard to the finish. On reflection I now think that it was right the peloton waited for them to get back on because so many riders crashed and so many were injured. If I'd been in the peloton I would have agreed to wait for the Schlecks too."

"I think Contador would agree with me because he knows he could have crashed too. I'm sure he wouldn't have wanted to win the Tour without having to go up against Andy for the whole three weeks of the race. Their duel made the race this year and so made Contador's victory truly deserved."

"I think the same logic should be applied to the green jersey competition. Thor Hushovd missed out on a lot of points that day but I don’t think he would have wanted to win that way."

1. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 4:40:48
81. Alberto Contador (Astana) @3:56
82. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) @3:56

1. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 10:01:25
7. Alberto Contador (Astana) @3:24
85. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) @4:06

Advantage: Contador by 42 seconds

The peloton did not race into Spa after many riders crashed on a wet descent. Photo: ISPA

Stage 3: Wanze-Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, 213km

After tackling roads figuring in the Ardennes Classics the previous day, the peloton faced 13.2km of pavé utilized in Paris-Roubaix in the finale of stage 3, the Tour's first foray into France.

While Hushovd took stage honours, Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans (BMC) were the big winners amongst GC contenders, both finishing in the leading six-man group.

Alberto Contador put in an admirable performance on the pavé, but was delayed by the crash which ended Fränk Schleck's (Saxo Bank) Tour de France. The Spaniard was part of the first chase group, accompanied by powerhouse Astana teammate Alexandre Vinokourov, but Contador was gapped out inside the final kilometre and finished 0:20 behind his chase companions and 1:13 behind Schleck.

Scott Sunderland: "If Andy Schleck lacked a little bit of aggression and focus in the prologue, he made up for it on the cobbles. He and Saxo Bank had prepared well for the stage and knew it was a huge chance for them to strike a blow and gain time."

"Andy had the advantage of having Fabian Cancellara there to help him. Fabian did the work of three men on the cobbles but if you look at the video of the stage, you can see that Andy did a lot of work on the road section too, and so deserved to gain 1:13 on Contador."

"The stage was all about having a strong team that could get you in position for the cobbles and then help you stay there. Saxo Bank won the stage but Contador was lucky to have Alexandre Vinokourov in that respect. Vino may have messed up and left Contador behind at the finish but without him, he could have lost a lot more."

1. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam) 4:49:38
5. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) @0:00
13. Alberto Contador (Astana) @1:13

1. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) 14:54:00
6. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) @1:09
9. Alberto Contador (Astana) @1:40

Advantage: Schleck by 31 seconds

Fabian Cancellara drills it on the cobbles, pulling Andy Schleck away from his competitors. Photo: Bettini

Stage 8: Station des Rousses-Morzine-Avoriaz, 189km

On the first major day in the mountains at the Tour, Schleck attacked an elite 13-man group of GC contenders with 1km remaining in the 13.6km mountain finish and only Olympic champion Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskado) could follow. Schleck outsprinted Sanchez for stage victory, while Contador finished 6th and surrendered 10 seconds to the Luxembourger.

Scott Sunderland: "Andy took back the psychological advantage by winning the first mountain top finish but the racing also showed us how finely balanced the Tour was and was going to be later on."

"It also highlighted the importance of a strong team and showed that Astana was just that little bit stronger in the mountains after Saxo Bank lost Frank Schleck. Andy only attacked in the final kilometres and so only gained ten seconds because Astana, and especially Daniel Navarro, controlled the front of the race so well and made it very difficult for anyone to do anything."

"Navarro was worth his weight in gold that day. Without his performance, Andy could have attacked much earlier, discovered that Contador wasn't having a great day much earlier and so gained much more time. Cycling is often unpredictable in that sense and that is what makes it such a great sport. You never know what is going to happen around the next corner."

1. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) 4:54:11
6. Alberto Contador (Astana) @0:10

1. Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) 37:57:09
2. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) @0:20
3. Alberto Contador (Astana) @1:01

Advantage: Schleck by 41 seconds

A jubilant Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) after winning the stage. Photo: Bettini

Stage 12: Bourg-de-Peage-Mende, 210.5km

Entering the stage, Andy Schleck was in the maillot jaune as previous leader Cadel Evans cracked on stage 9 and fell out of contention. Alberto Contador held second overall, still trailing Schleck by 41 seconds.

On the steep Montée Laurent Jalabert climb, whose summit was 2km from the finish, Contador attacked the yellow jersey group and opened a gap to Schleck. Contador, accompanied by compatriot Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), caught and passed Contador's teammate Alexandre Vinokourov, the last remaining member of the day's break, and the leading duo sprinted for stage honours. Rodriguez outkicked Contador for first, while Schleck finished 5th on the day in a five-man group of GC contenders, 10 seconds back.

Scott Sunderland: "This year's Tour went first one way and then the other. Andy seemed on top in Morzine-Avoriaz but after the rest day on the steep climb to Mende, Contador came back and hit him hard."

"Andy made a few mistakes this year because of his age and temperament, and I think one of his biggest was at Mende. He said before and after the stage that the climb didn't suit him, while Alberto was quick to remind everyone that he'd won their twice in the past and loved the climb. I think that made the difference in their performances. The ten seconds wasn't a lot but it Andy had already mentally set himself up to fail."

"He should learn from how Lance Armstrong kept his cards close to his chest and used his head as much as his legs. If Andy wants to win the Tour, he has to play a smarter mind game."

1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 4:58:26
2. Alberto Contador (Astana) @0:00
5. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) @0:10

1. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) 58:42:01
2. Alberto Contador (Astana) @0:31

Advantage: Schleck by 31 seconds

Alberto Contador gains a few valuable seconds in Mende. Photo: Bettini

Stage 15: Pamiers-Bagneres-de-Luchon, 187.5km

In a stage which will likely be discussed for years, Alberto Contador donned yellow for the first time in the 2010 Tour following Andy Schleck's mechanical incident on the day's final climb, the hors categorie Port de Balès. Should Contador have waited for Schleck, the Tour maillot jaune?

While Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) was well ahead of the GC contenders, soloing to victory, Andy Schleck put in a strong attack approximately 2km from the Port de Balès summit. Moments later, however, the yellow-clad Luxembourger screeched to a halt with a dropped chain while Contador, Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) sped past.

After Schleck fixed his drivetrain, he put in a powerful surge to crest the Port de Balès summit only 13 seconds behind the Contador group. Schleck would lose time, however, on the lengthy, 21.5km-descent to Bagneres-de-Luchon and crossed the finish line 39 seconds behind Contador. The Spaniard was now in yellow by the slimmest of margins: eight seconds with five stages remaining.

Scott Sunderland: "Contador pulled on the yellow jersey in Luchon but when he heard the crowd whistle and boo him, I'm sure he realised he'd unfairly taken advantage of Andy's mechanical problem."

'I know the race was 'on', that everything was decided in split seconds and the other riders attacked too, but Contador was the first to go clear and kept going all the way to the finish thanks to a special 'friendship' with Samuel Sanchez, who guided him down the descent."

I think he should have at least of asked the other riders to wait. I know these guys are competing against each other but there must always be room for some sportsmanship in cycling. The riders share the same road and face the same difficulties. Alberto is a special champion but missed an opportunity to show he has a special sense of fair play."

1. Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) 4:44:51
7. Alberto Contador (Astana) @2:50
12. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) @3:29

1. Alberto Contador (Astana) 72:50:42
2. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) @0:08

Advantage: Contador by 8 seconds

The critical moment that lost Andy Schleck the maillot jaune and the Tour. Photo: AFP

Stage 17: Pau-Col du Tourmalet, 174km

In a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Pyrenean climbs' inclusion in the Tour de France, the peloton finished atop the legendary Col du Tourmalet for only the second time in Tour history. The 18.6km hors categorie ascent to 2,115m, the Tour's highest point, would be the final climb of the 2010 Tour and a fitting battleground for Contador and Schleck to put their climbing talent to the test for overall GC supremacy.

Ten kilometres from the Tourmalet summit, Schleck attacked the yellow jersey group and only Contador could follow. The dynamic climbing duo soon dispatched of Alexandre Kolobnev (Katusha), the sole remaining rider from the early break, and flew through the dense fog to the summit finish. Schleck tried desperately to dispatch Contador, but the day ended in a stalemate as the pair finished in the same time with the Luxembourger picking up his second stage win of the Tour and the Souvenir Henri Desgranges for arriving first at the Tour's highest summit. Contador, however, remained in yellow by the same margin as the stage began: eight seconds.

Scott Sunderland: "The finish at the summit of the Col du Tourmalet was expected to be the big show down of the Tour. It didn’t happen because Andy was unable to drop Contador."

"Andy knew he had to gain time on Contador if he wanted to have a chance in the time trial. He made at least six powerful surges but Contador was always on his wheel and able to go with him. Andy needed a teammate up the road, who he could have bridged up to, or other riders who were racing for the stage victory. If he'd been able to get a gap on Contador in some way and then find someone to work with, he could have cracked him."

"The fact that it didn’t happen showed just how equally matched they were in the mountains and how relatively weak or so far out of contention the other riders were. Robert Gesink, Jurgen Van den Broeck, Samuel Sanchez and Denis Menchov were sometimes aggressive but just imagine if Armstrong, Evans, Basso and Frank Schleck had been there too. It would have been an epic stage instead of ending in a stalemate."

1. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) 5:03:29
2. Alberto Contador (Astana) @0:00

1. Alberto Contador (Astana) 83:32:39
2. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) @0:08

Advantage: Contador by 8 seconds

Andy Schleck threw everything he had at Contador, but gained no time on the Tourmalet. Photo: AFP

Stage 19: Bordeaux - Pauillac, 52km

Defending Tour champion Alberto Contador was heavily favoured against Andy Schleck in the final time trial, but the reigning time trial champion of Luxembourg didn't go down without a fierce effort to wrest yellow from the Spaniard. Contador trailed Schleck by two seconds at the first time check, but steadily turned things around to lead Schleck by seven seconds at the second time check and ultimately 31 seconds at the finish.

Contador sealed his third Tour de France victory with a 39-second advantage over Schleck, which happened to be the same margin of time which the Luxembourger surrendered to Contador during "Chain-gate" on stage 15.

Scott Sunderland: "Contador was the huge favourite to seal victory in the time trial but he must have been really scared when he found out he had not gained any time early on. He looked uncomfortable on the bike for some one who is so good in time trials and had to really fight to get the yellow jersey. You could see exactly how much when he emotionally shed a few tears on the podium."

"Andy was hugely disappointed after the time trial but hopefully he will take heart from the progress and improvements he has obviously made in the last 12 months. He still has a lot of work to do in the time trials but I think he can reduce his losses to Contador and perhaps find the difference between winning and losing. Their duel should entertain us for the next few years and that's something we can all look forward too."

1. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) 1:00:56
35. Alberto Contador (Astana) @5:43
44. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) @6:14

1. Alberto Contador (Astana) 89:16:27
2. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) @0:39

Final advantage: Contador by 39 seconds

Alberto Contador struggled, but pulled off the win overall after the time trial. Photo: Bettini

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Based in the southeastern United States, Peter produces race coverage for all disciplines, edits news and writes features. The New Jersey native has 30 years of road racing and cyclo-cross experience, starting in the early 1980s as a Junior in the days of toe clips and leather hairnets. Over the years he's had the good fortune to race throughout the United States and has competed in national championships for both road and 'cross in the Junior and Masters categories. The passion for cycling started young, as before he switched to the road Peter's mission in life was catching big air on his BMX bike.