COL DU TOURMALET, France — Andy Schleck is likely to add a third white jersey to his collection as the best young rider in the Tour de France, but he probably will have to wait at least another year to upgrade it to yellow.
The Luxembourg rider won the 17th stage of the Tour at the top of the Col du Tourmalet on Thursday, although the 25-year-old's victory was tempered by the knowledge that he had failed in what was considered to be his last chance to topple Alberto Contador, the defending champion and overall leader.
The Spaniard leads Schleck in the overall standings by eight seconds, and there was no getting away from Contador during the final ascent.
"I hope I have what it takes to win the Tour," said Schleck, who shot to fame in 2007 by finishing second in the Giro d'Italia and winning the under-25 rider classification. "Maybe next year, maybe in three years. I'm close this year; there's only eight seconds between us.
"I believe we're equal in the mountains now. Everybody was expecting this duel on the Tourmalet. I gave it my all to try and drop him; I tried to change pace. But he also attacked to show me he wouldn't be dropped," Schleck said. "I have great respect for him. Of course he is better in time trials, but there is only eight seconds between us and I will keep trying. The Tour is not over."
However, the last three days of the Tour seem to favor Contador. The 19th stage, a 32.3-mile individual time trial between Bordeaux and Pauillac on Saturday, is suited to Contador's skills, and it would take an extraordinary performance for Schleck to beat him.
Schleck's father, former pro rider Johnny Schleck, would not write his son off.
"I still believe a little. I had so many surprises with my kids. There's only his brother missing. With Frank, they could have made it together," the father said in reference to Schleck's older brother, who withdrew from the Tour after breaking his collarbone during Stage 3.
Andy Schleck promised he would do everything he could to please his father.
"I can see the yellow jersey in front of me. I'm not going to give up before Paris," Schleck said. "There is still a very important time trial, and my father always told me you should fall off your bike out of exhaustion at the end of a time trial. I will."