Stage winner Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, right, crosses the finish line to win the 17th stage of the Tour de France, as Alberto Contador of Spain, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, is seen left. (AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski)
COL DU TOURMALET, France (AP) — Andy Schleck won the most prestigious stage of this year's Tour de France, while defending champion Alberto Contador finished second Thursday to virtually guarantee a third title.
Schleck knew he needed to pick up time on Contador in the 17th stage, and tried to break away with six miles left in the climb of the legendary Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees. But Contador stuck to his Luxembourg rival as they raced in fog and drizzle.
They completed the 108 miles from Pau to the Col du Tourmalet in 5 hours, 3 minutes, 29 seconds. Contador still leads Schleck in the overall standings by eight seconds.
The two men completed the final miles of the race almost side by side, representing the two-rider battle that has been the story of this year's Tour.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was on the top of the mountain to greet them.
"The image of Alberto and Andy side by side was a great image of sport," Sarkozy said. "Alberto may win, but Andy will win next year."
Schleck and Contador braved the weather as well as the flags of fans hitting them in the face during the climb.
Third place went to Spain's Joaquin Rodriguez, who pulled away from the rest of the chasing group and finished on his own, 1 minute, 18 seconds back.
The 2008 champion Carlos Sastre made a valiant attempt to make up the more than nine minutes separating him from Contador, breaking out alone in search of the lead group after 15 miles, aided by his teammate Ignatas Konovalovas, who dropped back from the leaders.
But he was never able to bridge the gap, and was caught by the peloton just before the start of the Tourmalet. He later slipped further back.
Anthony Charteau of France finished in 27th place, having done enough to guarantee he would be the overall winner of the polka-dot jersey for best climber.
On the second climb of the day, the Col du Soudor, the peloton was briefly disrupted by a group of sheep who crossed the road just as the riders arrived. No rider fell but several were forced to brake hard and stop.
With four days in the Pyrenees behind the riders, Friday's 18th stage is a 123-mile flat ride from Salies-de-Bearn to Bordeaux.
Thor Hushovd of Norway holds the green jersey of points leader ahead of Italy's Alessandro Pettachi, with Mark Cavendish of Britain also in the hunt for the stage win and green jersey.
The Tour finishes in Paris on Sunday.
Associated Press Writer Naomi Koppel contributed to this report.
Tuesday, November 21 2017 1:49 PM EST2017-11-21 18:49:31 GMT
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