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Contador survives panic attack to extend Tour lead

PAUILLAC, France (Reuters) - Alberto Contador had a bad night and a bad day on the bike on Saturday but was still poised to win his third Tour de France despite a below-par performance.

The 27-year-old Spaniard increased his advantage to 39 seconds over Andy Schleck in the final time trial over 52 kms from Bordeaux and the Luxembourg rider will now have to be content with second place overall for the second year in a row.

“I had a bad night, I did not sleep well, I had stomach ache,” Contador, who could not hold back his tears when he was given the yellow jersey on the podium, told a news conference.

Contador, one of only five men with titles in the Tour, the Giro d’Italia and the Spanish Vuelta, struggled to find the perfect position on his bike. He gasped for air more than usual as Schleck threatened his eight-second overall lead during the first part of Saturday’s timed effort.

“To be honest, I got some information that Andy was five seconds behind and I started to panic,” Contador said. “I thought ‘oh my god, oh my god it’s over’.”

Contador’s panic proved premature as Schleck eventually lost ground, gradually running out of energy and almost falling off his bike in exhaustion.

“This is such a relief, you cannot begin to imagine,” said Contador.

Asked if he had suffered as much as Saturday on the bike this year, he paused and replied: “There are many times I suffered this year, but not as much as today.”

Contador appeared less dominant than last year, when he beat Schleck by 4:11 with strong time trial showings and brutal attacks in the climbs.

This year, Schleck was a match in the mountains and almost as good as Contador in Saturday’s time trial.

The man from Pinto, however, hinted his domination of the Tour was not over.

“I would not say that Andy is stronger than last year. It’s just than I was not as good,” he said.

“I have had bad days on this Tour. But I won’t say which ones,” he added with a smile.

Editing by John Mehaffey