Garate day for Spaniards
Schleck forced to settle for second, Armstrong retains place on podium
Last Updated: 04/08/09 5:23pm
Garate: First to finish on Mount Vertoux
Alberto Contador finished fourth in the penultimate stage of the Tour de France to retain the yellow jersey and all-but assure himself of the overall title.
The Spaniard was right behind Andy Schleck, his closest rival in the standings, at the finishing line on the top of Mont Ventoux to maintain his sizeable advantage of four minutes and 11 seconds.
The stage victory went to Contador's compatriot Juan Manuel Garate, who raced clear of German Tony Martin in the final 100 metres.
Both riders had been part of a 16-man breakaway which had gone clear at the start of the 167km trek from Montelimar.
With the leader allowed something of a victory parade on Sunday's final stage to the Champs Elysees, Contador seems certain to be crowned champion.
It will be the second Tour de France crown for the Astana rider, who has been in yellow since last weekend, after he also won the event in 2007.
"It has been a different, special, tough Tour," he said afterwards. "The only thing I had to do was to control Andy Schleck and I was able to do it. He tried to attack many times and he was very strong, but I was too.
"I'm also glad we managed to keep Lance in third place."
Schleck, who attacked on countless occasions on the gruelling 21km climb up the legendary Mount Ventoux, was full of praise for Contador.
"He was undoubtedly the strongest rider in the Tour," he said. "He was there every day, never had a bad day. He won three stages and is a gentleman.
"Next year, against such a rider, it will be tough again but I'm young and can improve again."
Lance Armstrong ended up fifth to maintain his grip on third place in the general classification. If the American can, as expected, retain his position he will end up on the podium in Paris for the first time since 2005.
Bradley Wiggins battled bravely to come home in 10th and hang on to fourth, putting him on course to equal the best overall finish by a Brit.
The Garmin-Slipstream rider was dropped on several occasions on the final climb but each time fought back to the main group. Although dropped again in the final kilometre, he still sits three seconds clear of Frank Schleck.
The 2009 edition of Le Tour comes to a climax with a 164.5km ride from Montereau-Fault-Yonne into the heart of Paris on Sunday.
1. Juan Manuel Garate (Spain / Rabobank) 4hrs 39mins 21secs
2. Tony Martin (Germany / Columbia ) +3
3. Andy Schleck (Luxembourg / Saxo Bank ) +38
4. Alberto Contador (Spain / Astana )
5. Lance Armstrong (U.S. / Astana ) +41
6. Frank Schleck (Luxembourg / Saxo Bank ) +43
7. Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic / Liquigas ) +46
8. Franco Pellizotti (Italy / Liquigas ) +56
9. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy / Liquigas ) +58
10. Bradley Wiggins (Britain / Garmin ) +1:03
1. Alberto Contador (Spain / Astana ) 81hrs 46mins 17secs
2. Andy Schleck (Luxembourg / Saxo Bank ) +4:11
3. Lance Armstrong (U.S. / Astana ) +5:24
4. Bradley Wiggins (Britain / Garmin ) +6:01
5. Frank Schleck (Luxembourg / Saxo Bank ) +6:04