Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck pushed Alberto Contador to his limits today and nearly forcing the Tour de France to its closest finish ever.

Schleck of team Saxo Bank started the day only eight seconds behind Contador and had him down to two seconds midway in the 52-kilometre time trial test through Bordeaux’s surrounding vineyards.

Despite the push, he faded and ended 39 seconds back on Contador (Astana) in the overall standings.

“I never had doubts about it, my team believed in me and I believed in myself,” said Schleck.

“You have to push yourself to your limits. I tired to do that and I finished to the point where I could not even step off my bike. I gave it my all. I think I did a pretty good time trial, I am satisfied with today and the whole Tour.”

Contador recogised Schleck’s effort today. He said, “I remained doubtful to the finish line, really.”

Schleck rode away with two-time Tour winner, Contador on the stage to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne and created a two-man race. The finish in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne also saw Schleck pull on the yellow jersey for a career first.

However, his fortune changed five days later. A chain slip allowed Contador to ride away on the top of the Port de Balès and by the finish in Bagnères-de-Luchon, gain 39″ – the same time advantage holds today.

“Cycling is not like mathematics,” said Contador. “This year, though, maybe I was not in my best shape really.”

“I have made no mistakes…” added Schleck. “Of course, I regret that I dropped the chain the other day, but still he would have won with two seconds, so you can’t go back on that.”

Despite a close loss he can be proud that he pushed Contador to his limit. He also walks away from this Tour de France with the white jersey of best young rider and two stage wins.

Tour de France 2010: Latest news

Tour de France stage 19: Photo special

Feed Zone: Tour de France news and views (July 24)

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Schleck behind after Tourmalet duel but refuses to give up

Hesjedal leaps up classification with Tour’s Tourmalet ride

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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

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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 18: Cavendish wins fourth stage of Tour in Bordeaux

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 18 photo gallery

Stage 17 photo gallery

Stage 16 photo gallery

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 17 video highlights

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