Alberto Contador’s path to his third Tour de France win has covered in baby steps and not the giant strides seen in the past. A few seconds there and some here have added to put him in winning position for Sunday in Paris.

“This Tour was pretty difficult due to some of the stages that you thought would be normal, but turned out to be critical,” said team Astana’s sports director, Giuseppe Martinelli.

“Look at the the stage to Mende, where Alberto took 15 seconds from Andy, or the controversial stage two days ago – those 40 seconds have turned out to be very comforting.”

Contador has eight seconds on Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) heading into tomorrow’s decisive 52-kilometre time trial from Bordeaux to Pulliac.

Winner in 2007 and 2009, Contador started this year as the overall favourite. He and Schleck rode away from their rivals on the stage to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne and made the 2010 edition a two-man race.

The finish in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne concluded an epic mountain day, one which saw Sky’s Bradley Wiggins lose nearly five minutes. However, Contador’s battle to win the yellow jersey was made up of lots of small battles: a 42″ gain in the Rotterdam time trial, a 1’13” loss in the Arenberg stage, a 10″ loss in Morzine-Avoriaz, a 10″ gain in Mende and a 39″ gain in Bagnères-de-Luchon.

“Maybe this year I didn’t have to attack so much and I could ride more conservatively,” explained Contador. “I’ve had good sensations throughout this Tour and my data is at the same level as last year.”

“Not every year is the same. However, Alberto has shown to be one of the two strongest riders with Andy,” added Martinelli

“I don’t know how he was going last year because I was only watching him on television from home, but it seems he is going as strong this year.”

Last year, Contador put 1’45” into Schleck in the final 40.5-kilometre time trial to secure his win. This year, though, it will likely be a baby step, adding to the others and producing a win.

As it stands now, it is the closest Tour de France ahead of the final time trial since Claudio Chiappucci and Greg LeMond in 1990.

Close classification battles ahead of final time trial (with eventual Tour winner first unless noted)

5″ – LeMond/Chiappucci (1990)

8″ – Contador/Schleck (2010, winner ?)

12″ – Van Springel/San Miguel (1968, winner Janssen)

14″ – Anquetil/Poulidor (1964)

14″ – Hinault/Zoetemelk (1978)

21″ – Roche/Delgado (1987)

28″ – Anquetil/Bahamontes (1963)

36″ – Thévenet/Kuiper (1977)

39″ Favero/Gemignani (1958, winner Gaul)

50″ – LeMond/Fignon (1989)

Tour de France 2010: Latest news

Schleck behind after Tourmalet duel but refuses to give up

Hesjedal leaps up classification with Tour’s Tourmalet ride

Sky pushes ahead regardless of Wiggins placing

Armstrong has his last go in the Tour

Tour’s points leader Petacchi investigated for doping

Contador issues video apology to Schleck

Millar searches horizon for Eiffel Tower

Schleck-Contador friendship turns sour after chain problem

Wiggins at 2010 Tour: “I haven’t got it”

Basso wins Tour’s acceptance; podium spot next goal

Contador versus Schleck: A game of seconds

Can Cav win without Renshaw?

Hesjedal pushing his way to the Tour’s top

Renshaw disqualification overshadows Cavendish’s win

Charly Wegelius pulls out of Tour

Did Armstrong own a stake in Tailwind Sports, or not?

Cavendish in a ‘must win’ situation for Tour’s green jersey

Millar rides through pain barrier to make time cut

Roche alongside Tour’s top men ahead of Pyrenees

Wiggins to aim for Tour de France stage win?

Dan Lloyd battles on in Tour despite groin strain

Tour de France 2010: Stage reports

Stage 17: Schleck wins on the Tourmalet but cannot shake off Contador

Rest day review (July 21)

Stage 16: Fedrigo takes tough Pyrenean stage

Stage 15: Victorious Voeckler continues fine Franch Tour as Contador takes yellow jersey

Stage 14: Riblon hangs on in Pyrenees to give France fourth stage win

Stage 13: Vino returns to top of Tour after doping ban

Stage 12: Rodriguez wins as Contador attacks

Stage 11: Cavendish bags third stage win but lead out man kicked out of Tour

Stage 10: Cavendish bags third stage win but his lead-out man is kicked out of race

Stage 10: Paulinho claims narrow stage victory on Bastille day

Stage nine: Casar wins stage as Schleck and Contador go head-to-head

Stage seven: Chavanel wins stage and takes overall as Thomas drops out of Tour’s white

Stage six: Cavendish makes it two as Tour hots up

Stage five: Cavendish wins his first stage of Tour

Stage four: Petacchi wins into Reims

Stage three: Hushovd takes dramatic win; Thomas second on stage and GC

Stage three live coverage: As it happened

Stage two: Comeback man Chavanel takes victory in Spa

Stage one: Petacchi wins in Brussels as bunch left in tatters

Prologue: Cancellara pips Martin to win

Tour de France 2010: Photos

Stage 15 photo gallery

Stage 14 photo gallery

Stage 13 photo gallery

Stage 12 photo gallery

Stage 11 photo gallery

Stage 10 photo gallery

Stage nine photo gallery

Stage eight photo gallery

Tour 2010 wallpaper

Stage seven photo gallery

Stage six photo gallery

Stage five photo gallery

Stage four photo gallery

Stage three photo gallery

Stage two photo gallery

Stage one gallery

Prologue photo gallery

Tour de France 2010: Videos

Stage 16 video highlights

Stage 15 video highlights

Stage 14 video highlights

Stage 13 video highlights

Stage 12 video highlights

Stage 11 video highlights

Stage 10 video highlights

Stage nine video highlights

Stage eight video highlights

Stage seven video highlights

Stage six video highlights

Stage five video highlights

Stage four video highlights

Stage three video highlights

Stage two video highlights

Stage one video highlights

Prologue video highlights

Tour de France 2010: Race guide

Tour de France 2010: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index

Official start list, with race numbers

Brits at the Tour 2010

Tout team guide

Tour jerseys: What they are and what they mean

Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Wiggins

Tour de France 2010: Pictures

Tour team presentation, Rotterdam

Tour teams take to the cobbles: Photo special