Garate takes stage honours

"It has been a different, special, tough Tour," said the Spaniard, who finished fourth in the 167-km penultimate stage, won by his compatriot Juan Manuel Garate.

Contador, who won his first Tour in 2007 and was banned from taking part last year, easily checked countless attempts on the Ventoux climb by Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, who is poised to finish second, four minutes and 11 seconds behind.

The last laurels at stake on the 21.1-km of the hardest climb in cycling were the last spot on the podium. Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong showed he remained a formidable rider at 37, finishing fifth in the stage to retain his third place, 5:24 behind Contador.

The Spaniard was even seen helping the American bridge the gap on one of Schleck's moves, proving there were no hard feelings between the two leaders of the Astana team they will probably both leave next season. "The only thing I had to do was to control Andy Schleck and I was able to do it. He tried to attack many times and he was very strong, but I was too," Contador said. "I'm also glad we managed to keep Lance in third place."

Briton Bradley Wiggins, who again performed like a sheer mountaineer, finally lost touch in the last km but limited the damage to retain fourth place in the general classification.
The pursuit Olympic champion is three seconds ahead of Frank Schleck, who is set to improve on his sixth place last year.

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