Alberto Contador of Spain all but locked up a Tour de France victory Saturday by holding off his top rival in the final time trial, though he became the latest rider to feel the sting of the doping allegations that have marred the race.
American rider Levi Leipheimer, a Discovery Channel teammate of Contador, won the 19th stage with a time of 1 hour, 2 minutes, 44 seconds in the 35-mile race against the clock from Cognac to Angouleme.
Contador lost most of his lead but still holds a 23-second advantage over Cadel Evans. Barring a crash or other mishap, the 24-year-old Spaniard is likely to bring home the yellow jersey Sunday in the 20th and final stage - a 90.7-mile ride from Marcoussis to Paris' Champs-Elysees that is usually a processional ride with few chances for breakaways.
"I'm eager to go home and celebrate," said Contador, who was encouraged during the time trial by seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, who has ties to Discovery and was riding behind in a team car. "It wasn't an easy day."
The latest doping allegations didn't help.
The French daily Le Monde, citing what it claimed was an investigation file it had access to, said Saturday that Contador's name, or initials, appeared in documents found at the apartment of Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, at the center of the Spanish doping probe known as Operation Puerto.
Contador said he was "sure" that he was not involved in the case, and insisted he was innocent. He said he would give a DNA sample if asked, but wouldn't offer one if it wasn't requested "because I'm innocent and I don't have to prove anything to anyone," he said.
Contador inherited the leader's yellow jersey after former Michael Rasmussen was ousted Wednesday by his Rabobank team, which said the Dane had lied about where he was when he missed a doping test last month.
Italy's Cristian Moreni and pre-race favorite Alexandre Vinokourov were also ejected after testing positive for doping.
Contador's Discovery Channel teammates are likely to go all out Sunday to protect his lead, and ensure that rivals don't overtake him on the ride up to the finish on the famed Paris avenue.
"We've won this Tour de France - barring a freak accident tomorrow," Leipheimer said of his team. "I am obviously very happy for Alberto."
From NPR reports and The Associated Press