ANGOULEME, France -- With Lance Armstrong chattering in his
ear, Alberto Contador churned out the miles, his lead dwindling
along with the chance to wear the winner's yellow jersey at a Tour
de France that will be remembered for its scandals.
The 24-year-old Discovery Channel cyclist beat the clock in
Saturday's time trial to seal the victory at cycling's biggest
event, where the pre-race favorite was accused of cheating, and the
longtime leader was sent home for lying.
Contador entered Saturday's 19th stage with a 1 minute, 50
second lead over Cadel Evans. When it was over, teammate American
Levi Leipheimer had won the stage, and Contador was clinging to a
23-second advantage over Evans, paving the way for a ceremonial
ride along the Champs-Elysees in the heart of Paris on Sunday and
the first Tour win for Discovery since Armstrong retired.
But perhaps even that celebration will be tainted, as Contador
has not been spared the doping suspicions that seem attached to the
He missed last year's Tour when his former team, Astana, was
disqualified because he and four other riders were implicated in
the Spanish blood-doping investigation known as Operation Puerto.
French daily Le Monde, citing what it said was an investigation
file to which it had access, said Saturday that Contador's name, or
initials, appeared in documents found at the apartment of the
Spanish doctor at the center of the Spanish probe.
Contador said he was "sure" he was not involved in the case.
He said he would -- if asked -- give a DNA sample but added he
wouldn't offer it up himself.
"I'm innocent," he said. "I don't have to prove anything to
Contador said his name mistakenly turned up in the Puerto file.
"I was on the wrong team at the wrong time," he said. "The
first time, my name was in Operation Puerto, but then the UCI fixed
this mistake. So I'm out of this case."
His road toward victory has combined grit, explosive
acceleration on tough mountain climbs and luck at the expense of
former leader Michael Rasmussen.
Contador inherited the leader's yellow jersey when the Danish
cyclist was ousted Wednesday by his Rabobank team for lying about
his whereabouts in June when he missed a doping check.
A day earlier, pre-race favorite Alexandre Vinokourov and his
Astana team were forced out of the Tour when it was revealed he had
tested positive for a banned blood transfusion. Although Vinokourov
has denied doping, a senior official said Saturday the backup "B"
sample confirmed the positive test.
They were just the biggest names to fall.
Italy's Cristian Moreni tested positive for testosterone, then
he and his Cofidis team were taken out of the race. That came a
week after word that Patrik Sinkewitz of the T-Mobile squad tested
positive for testosterone in a training run last month.
"I think cycling is crazy now; we see that there are a lot of
problems," Contador said. "It's clear that we can't continue with
all the scandals and all the problems we had."
Contador's story has a back-from-the-brink appeal. In 2004, he
suffered a massive blood clot in his brain that needed surgery.
While in a hospital bed, he drew inspiration from reading a book
about Armstrong, he said.
Saturday, that inspiration was right there with him, riding in
the team car.
"It was more nerve-racking than I expected," said seven-time
Tour winner Armstrong. "It made me nervous."
He said the team has performed better than he and team sporting
director Johan Bruyneel expected.
"Johan wanted to win the white jersey, put someone on the
podium and win two stages," Armstrong said. "We've done all those
things, plus the yellow one so far."
Leipheimer was a big part of that. He won his first Tour stage
Saturday with a time of 1 hour, 2 minutes, 44 seconds in the
35-mile ride from Cognac to Angouleme. Australian Evans was second,
51 seconds behind, and Contador was fifth, 2:18 behind.
Leipheimer, who started out 2:49 behind Contador in third place
overall, now trails him by 31 seconds.
Contador's teammates -- including Leipheimer -- are likely to go
all out Sunday to protect his lead along the 90.7 mile ride from
Marcoussis to the Champs-Elys Dees.
"We've won this Tour de France -- barring a freak accident
tomorrow," Leipheimer said of his team. "I am obviously very
happy for Alberto."
The Spaniard is riding in his second Tour, after winning this
year's Paris-Nice race, and is set to be the youngest winner since
Jan Ullrich in 1997.
Evans already has conceded, attributing his defeat to falling
back in the Peyresourde climb in the Pyrenees at the beginning of
the third week.
If all holds, Contador will win with the second-closest margin
of victory ever. The record belongs to American Greg Lemond, who
had an 8-second margin over France's Laurent Fignon in 1989.
Contador knew his career would be made Saturday.
"I'm eager to go home and celebrate," Contador said. "It
wasn't an easy day."