Bradley Wiggins (Garmin) is set to equal the best-ever British result in the Tour de France after a determined ride on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.
Wiggins responded to the early attacks but had to dig deep in the final two kilometres to defend his fourth place as the leaders largely marked each other behind stage winner Juan Manuel Garate (Rabobank).
Wiggins lost contact several times in the last four kilometres as Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) constantly attacked, but each time the Brit fought to get back on and then limited his losses in the final few hundred metres.
Riding with a picture of Tom Simpson on his bike, Wiggins finished 20 seconds behind Frank Schleck, his biggest threat for fourth place overall, and that was enough to equal Robert Millar’s result of fourth in the 1984 Tour de France
Alberto Contador (Astana) will ride into Paris as the winner of the Tour de France, with Andy Schleck second at 4-11 and Lance Armstrong (Astana) third at 5-24. Wiggins is fourth at 6-01.
Wiggins had said that the thought of Tommy Simpson watching over him would inspire him on Mont Ventoux. No doubt Simpson would have been proud of how Wiggins performed all the way through this year’s Tour de France.
Starting the day just fifteen seconds behind Armstrong in third place, the podium had been a possibility. Wiggins and the Texan shadowed each other all the way to Chalet Reynard, five kilometres from the top, but it was Armstrong who looked the stronger today. At the age of 37, Armstrong may not have been able to attack his younger rivals, but he could cling on to their rear wheels and get dragged to the top.
Armstrong is now likely to finish his career without ever winning on Mont Ventoux, but all he had to do today was keep Wiggins and Schleck with him to hold on to his third place.
Contador celebrates early
Alberto Contador punched the air in celebration after crossing the line in the shadows of the Mont Ventoux antenna.
He has fought against psychological mind games from his team mate Lance Armstrong as much as the attacks from his rivals. Yet proved again and again that he is best stage race rider of his generation.
On the slopes of Ventoux, Contador concentrated on marking Andy Schleck. He could perhaps have won the stage but is happy to have won the yellow jersey for a second time.
“It’s a great day for me. What a way to finish the Tour, with the climb of the Ventoux,” he said after emotionally celebrating on the podium.
“My legs were great today. It looked difficult out there but I managed to stay with the Schlecks. I knew I had to control Andy and respond to his attacks. I was also trying to look after Lance if he needed my help. Frank didn’t seem so strong and so Lance got his podium.”
Garate holds off contenders to win stage
Spain’s Juan Manual Garate (Rabobank) won the stage, beating Germany’s Tony Martin (Columbia) after the two managed to hold off the overall contenders. They were part of the early break and took advantage as the other riders raced tactically for a place on the podium.
Polka-dot jersey winner Franco Pelizzotti (Liquigas) tried to go across to them but a strong wind blew him back. Garate let Martin do most of the work and then jumped away inside the final kilometre. Martin got back up to him but the experienced Spaniard went again to win the stage by three seconds.
Garate claimed he’d dreamt about winning the stage last night and completed a great day for Spanish cycling.
Andy Schleck finished third at 38 seconds and was clearly the strongest along with Contador. He was desperate to get his brother on the podium in Paris and attacked several times in the hope that Frank could come across and they could ride together to the finish. Andy probably sacrificed his chances of winning the stage to help his brother but their strategy did not work.
Frank moved past Andreas Kloden (Astana) but Armstrong and Wiggins held onto third and fourth places.
Now, with the real racing done, it’s time to catch the TGV to Paris on Sunday morning and celebrate with the final stage to the Champs Elysees.
With Wiggins fourth overall and Cavendish likely to win his sixth stage in this year’s race, it has been Britain’s best ever Tour de France.
Cavendish and Hushovd make up?
Mark Cavendish and sprint rival Thor Hushovd crossed the line together on Ventoux. The two riders have been locked in war for the green jersey over the past three weeks. It’s been a battle of words, as much as a battle on the road but the two now appear to have settled their differences.
Both riders will be looking for one last stage win in Paris tomorrow, but unless Cavendish wins and Hushovd finishes way down the results, the green jersey will belong to the Norwegian.
Stage 20: Montelimar–Mont Ventoux, 167km
1. Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Rabobank in 4-39-21
2. Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-HTC at 3secs
3. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 38secs
4. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at same time
5. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana at 41secs
6. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 43secs
7. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas at 46secs
8. Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas at 56secs
9. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 58secs
10. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 1-03
Overall classification after stage 20
1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana in 81-46-17
2. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 4-11
3. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana at 5-24
4. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 6-01
5. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 6-04
6. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana at 6-42
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 7-35
8. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 12-04
9. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas at 14-16
10. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Francaise des Jeux at 14-25
Juan Manuel Garate takes the win on top of Mont Ventoux
True grit: Bradley Wiggins put in a fantastic ride to come tenth on the stage and retain his fourth place overall
Andy Schleck, Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong on Ventoux
Stage 19: Five star Cavendish wins Tour stage in to Aubenas
Stage 18: Contador tightens grip on the maillot jaune
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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TOUR DE FRANCE 2009 PHOTOS
Stage 20 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 19 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 18 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 17 photo gallery by Graham Watson
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
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Tour de France 2009 on TV: Eurosport and ITV4 schedules
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Cycling Weekly’s rider profiles