Contador beaten but not defeated

Alberto Contador rode the same bike throughout the time trial  (Getty Images)
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Despite being beaten again by Tour de France leader Chris Froome in the Stage 17 time trial, Alberto Contador vows he is even more motivated to contest the remaining four stages.

Froome is impressive but there are still two tough days and when you're second it's easier to get to first place. Froome is very strong but with this great team around me, there are several opportunities.

Froome, taking his third stage win of the 100th edition, finished the hilly 32 km race against the clock in a time of 51min 33sec to beat former two-time champion Contador by nine seconds.

Contador's efforts moved him up to second place overall at the expense of Dutchman Bauke Mollema but the Saxo team leader saw his deficit go from 4min 25sec to 4min 34sec a day ahead of a crucial 18th stage in the Alps.

After stepping off the podium, where he made three visits for the stage win, the yellow jersey and the best climber's polka dot jersey, Froome said his win was unexpected.

"I'm really happy with the result from today. I wanted to hold back a little bit for the days ahead and I was actually prepared to lose a little bit of time, so I'm quite surprised I won the stage," he said.

Coupled with the threat of rain for the late starters, many riders faced the dilemma of deciding whether to swap their habitual road race bikes for time trial machines at the summit of the day's final climb, which was followed by a far less technical descent than the descent of the Puy-Sanieres climb at the 25.5 km mark.

Contador was one of the few favourites who opted to use his normal bike, albeit with aero bars fitted to the handlebars.

Having led Froome over the first three time checks, the Saxo team leader's time of 51min 42sec - one second faster than compatriot Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) - looked good enough for the win.

But after Froome jumped on a time trial machine just before the summit of the Cote de Reallon, he powered over the remaining 12 kilometres to overhaul the 11-sec deficit he had to Contador at the summit.

"I felt that the bike change definitely helped me," said Froome.

Contador, who on Monday was accused by Froome of trying to make him crash - as the Briton followed the Spaniard on a dangerous descent into Gap - could only watch in frustration as Froome crossed the line in triumph.

“It was a good day and I'm happy because I'm getting closer, even though it's a shame losing the win by so little time," said Contador.

"Froome is at an impressive level both uphill and on the time trial and when I saw he was there, although I still had the best time, I was totally surprised that he was going to beat me.

"On the last descent it started to rain and I decided to go a little softer because I had a fall yesterday. I'm actually glad that the knee doesn't hurt me much during the time trial and that motivates me for the coming days.”

“There's a lot of talking about the bike change but I'm very happy with our decision. I have a mechanic Faustino who prepared a bike for me that was difficult to improve. I am very happy with the choice I made,” said Contador.

“Finishing second today haven't changed our goal. We must try and see if we can climb to the top position. Yes, Froome is impressive but there are still two tough days and when you're second it's easier to get to first place. Froome is very strong but with this great team around me, there are several opportunities.”

The only consolation for Contador's Saxo team was seeing Roman Kreuziger finish just 23sec slower than Froome to move up to third at 4min 51sec overall as Dutchman Mollema flattered to deceive in a discipline known as the 'race of truth'.

The 18th stage on Thursday is a 172.5 km race beginning in Gap and featuring six climbs, including two ascensions of the legendary Alpe d'Huez, which will also host the finish.

Despite his significant advantage, Froome believes Contador and Mollema have not conceded defeat just yet.

"I think it's evident that the Spanish guys are not gonna stop racing, neither are the Dutch guys," he added. "It's going to be a race all the way to Paris. There are three really tough stages, starting tomorrow."

SBS will broadcast all stages of the Tour de France live.

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