If there was any remaining doubt over who is the real patron in this Tour de France, Alberto Contador today stamped his authority all over the race, staking his claim for his second Tour title.



Looking resplendent in a yellow skinsuit and a yellow helmet, the Spaniard was fastest at three of the four intermediate time checks demonstrating that he is not only the world’s finest climber, but also one of the most rounded riders in the sport.



Topping Fabian Cancellara’s time by three seconds, on a course that looked tailor-made for the Swiss, Contador also put 43 seconds into his nearest rival for the general classification, Bradley Wiggins.



Dancing on the pedals as he crested the top of the Côte de Bluffy and gritting his teeth as he ground his way to the line, he looked every bit the Tour champion elect.



Whilst the top step of the podium looks increasingly secure, the battle for the next two steps rages on, setting up a potential classic on Saturday’s stage to the summit of Mont Ventoux.

Andy Schleck, who rode so well in the mountains yesterday, put in an impressive performance to finish 21st on the stage, limiting his losses to Contador, but those behind narrowed the gap.

Meanwhile, Garmin’s Bradley Wiggins who looked as though he was out of contention for the podium after yesterday’s stage, jumped both Andreas Kloden and Frank Schleck on the general classification despite fading in the latter part of the stage.

The Briton now sits in fourth place, just 11 seconds behind Lance Armstrong in third place, making a Tour de France podium a real possibility. He has looked stronger than Armstrong on most of the climbs of this year’s race. The American only beating Wiggins on yesterday’s stage after sitting on him up the climb of La Colombiére and putting time in to him on the descent.

Frank Schleck lost 2-34 on Contador today as Lance Armstrong took his place on the podium, but the seven-time Tour-winner is showing real signs of fatigue.



Though the battle for the top step of the podium looks increasingly like it has been won, the tactical intrigue at Astana that has so dominated the headlines looks as though it could rear its head once again on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.



With Andreas Kloden and Lance Armstrong both conceivably able to finish on the podium, will Johan Bruyneel compromise Contador’s chances of a second win to ensure an Astana 1-2-3?



Stage 18 results, Annecy – Annecy, 40km

1. Alberto Contador (Astana) 48-31


2. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) 0-03

3. Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha) 0-15

4. Gustav Larsson (Saxo Bank) 0-33

5. David Millar (Garmin) 0-41

6. Bradley Wiggins (Garmin) 0-43

7. Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne) 0-44

8. Christophe Moreau (Agritubel) 0-45

9. Andreas Kloden (Astana) 0-54

10. Dave Zabriskie (Garmin) 1-02

Overall classification after stage 18

1. Alberto Contador (Esp) Astana 73-15-39hrs

2. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 4-11 min

3. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana at 5-25 min

4. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin-Slipstream at 5-36 min

5. Andréas Klöden (Ger) Astana at 5-38 min

6. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 5-59 min

7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 7-15 min

8. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 10-08 min

9. Mikel Astarloza (Esp) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 12-38 min

10. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux at 12-41

 Bradley Wiggins, Tour de France 2009, stage 18

Bradley Wiggins made up time on his rivals to move back up to fourth overall

 David Millar, Tour de France 2009, stage 18

David Millar put in a fantastic ride to come fifth

Fabian Cancellara, Tour de France 2009, stage 18

Fabian Cancellara lead the stage until Contador came through the finish line

Alberto Contador, Tour de France 2009, stage 18

Alberto Contador: unbeatable

TOUR DE FRANCE 2009 LINKS

Tour de France 2009 – the hub: Index to reports, photos, previews and more.

STAGE REPORTS



Stage 17: Schleck brothers overhaul Wiggins as Frank wins the stage



Stage 16: Astarloza snatches Alps stage win as contenders wind up the pace



Stage 15: Contador wins in Verbier as Tour explodes into life



Stage 14: Ivanov wins as Nocentini clings onto yellow


Stage 13: Haussler braves rain for victory in Colmar




Stage 12: Sorensen wins in Vittel as Cavendish goes for green



Stage 11: Cavendish takes fourth win to equal Hoban’s record



Stage 10: Cavendish spoils Bastille Day party to take third stage win



Stage nine: Third French win as contenders content with ceasefire


stage eight: Sanchez wins from break as Tour favourites cancel each other out




Stage seven: Feillu wins at Arcalis, Nocentini takes yellow, Contador leap-frogs Lance



Stage six: Millar’s brave bid denied on Barcelona hill as Hushovd triumphs



Stage five: Voeckler survives chase to win his first Tour stage



Stage four: Astana on top but Armstrong misses yellow by hundredths of a second



Live Tour de France stage four TTT coverage



Stage three: Cavendish wins second stage as Armstrong distances Contador



Stage two: Cavendish takes first sprint



Stage one: Cancellara wins opening time trial

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Contador brushes aside talk of Armstrong conflict

Cavendish odds-on favourite for Bastille Day victory

The Tour de France Comment: Monday, July 13

How the favourites are doing (first rest day)

Wiggins stays with leaders at Tour

Armstrong: ‘If Contador wins, I’ll be second’

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EXCLUSIVE VIDEOS



Garmin-Slipstream’s HQ before the Tour



David Zabriskie’s time trial bike



Mark Cavendish on the Tour’s team time trial



David Brailsford interview



Mark Cavendish on the Tour



Jonathan Vaughters on Bradley Wiggins’ chances

TOUR DE FRANCE 2009 PHOTOS



Stage 16 photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage 15 photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage 14 photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage 13 photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage 12 photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage 11 photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage 10 photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage nine photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage eight photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage seven photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage six photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage five photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage four TTT photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage three photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage two photo gallery by Graham Watson



Stage one photo gallery by Andy Jones



Stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson



Team presentation by Andy Jones



Team presentation by Graham Watson

TOUR GUIDE

Tour de France 2009 – the hub

Tour de France 2009: Who’s riding

Tour de France 2009: Team guide

About the Tour de France

FEATURES

Tour de France 2009: Who will win?

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Big names missing from 2009 Tour de France

Tour de France anti-doping measures explained

Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Cavendish

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