Text by Christian Camerota
Race leader Alberto Contador's earpiece stopped working at some point during Thursday's time trial in Annecy so he had only one choice: pedal harder.
Though the day began under partly cloudy skies, by the time Contador and other contenders like the Schleck brothers and Lance Armstrong started their individual 25-mile rides rain had soaked the course and left large puddles in riders' paths. Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara, a notoriously strong time trial cyclist, used his early start to finish in a fast 48 minutes and 24 seconds.
Contador, without the benefit of being told his splits, bore down and ended up winning the 18th stage, besting Cancellara's time by three seconds and capturing his second stage victory of the 2009 Tour. Armstrong finished 15th, 1:30 behind the winning time, but was able to move past Frank Schleck in the overall standings and into podium contention.
It is all but a foregone conclusion that Contador will lead the Tour into Paris on Sunday, as he extended his lead over second place Andy Schleck to 4:11 (Armstrong is in third at 5:25 behind). Tomorrow's 111-mile course stretching from Bourgoin-Jallieu to Aubenas is expected to be a relatively easy ride, followed by the last grueling climb into Mont Ventoux on Saturday.
ESPN also reported today that Armstrong has secured RadioShack as the primary sponsor for his new cycling team, on which he will compete in the 2010 Tour de France among other events. The move, though long a consideration, was finalized and may well pit Armstrong and his teammate (and this year's likely champion) Alberto Contador against each other.
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