COL DU TOURMALET (France) (AFP) Spaniard Alberto Contador took a huge step towards a third yellow jersey triumph after matching a series of attacks from Andy Schleck on the Tour de France 17th stage Thursday. Schleck began the final climbing stage of this years race, a 174km ride from Pau to the Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees, with an eight-second deficit to Spains two-time winner in the race for the yellow jersey. But despite staying faithful to his promise of attacking Contador throughout the 18.6km slog to the summit of the fog-shrouded Tourmalet, stage winner Schleck finished with Contador sitting comfortably on his wheel. I gave it everything today, I tried to attack, I changed rhythm several times to try and drop him and I just couldnt, said Schleck, who applauded Contadors gentlemanly conduct at the end. In the end I have to say respect to Alberto because he didnt sprint (for the finish) at the end. Astana team leader Contador will retain his eight-second lead over the Saxo Bank climbing specialist ahead of Fridays 18th stage, which is likely to finish in a bunch sprint. Schlecks last chance to overhaul Contador would be in Saturdays penultimate stage time trial over a 52km-long flat course, a discipline in which the Spaniard has a far better record. Barring catastrophe for Contador between Friday and Sunday, and despite Schlecks insistence he will fight to the end, the Spaniard will claim his third yellow jersey after victories in 2007 and 2009. Theres still some stages left but lets say today it was an important stepping stone (towards the yellow jersey), said Contador, who played down the fact he has not won any stages this year. I didnt have to win stages early in the race like I did last year, even though I was feeling strong. The most important thing was to be strong in the third week when the Tour was going to be decided. Although Schleck attacked Contador first, at the 10km to go mark, then several times after that the Spaniard made his own bid to drop the Luxemburger with 3.9km remaining. When Schleck pulled level, he gave Contador an icy stare which the Spaniard did not react to. Everybody talks about the look, but Ive got to look somewhere. Im battling with Contador, I look him in the eyes, added Schleck. When I came back to him, I looked at him and saw he was suffering too and that gave me a bit more confidence. I tried to attack him but Andys reaction showed me he was strong, added Contador. But the whole time I was really concentrated, and felt pretty confident. Today I had great legs. In 2008 Contador did not compete as he turned his attention to the Tour of Italy and Tour of Spain both of which he won. Schleck meanwhile had to be content with his second stage win of the race after he beat Contador by 10secs at Morzine-Avoriaz in the Alps. I couldnt drop him but Im really happy to have won the stage, added Schleck, who despite his inferior record in time trials has not given up hope of overhauling Contador on Saturday. Another Spaniard, Joaquin Rodriguez of Team Katusha, was third at 1min 18sec, with Canadian Ryder Hesjedal fourth at 1:27, Spaniard Samuel Sanchez fifth at 1:32 and Denis Menchov sixth at 1:40. Sanchez increased his 13sec lead over podium rival Menchov to 21sec, however the Russian believes his superior time trialling will let him leapfrog the little Olympic champion. Im satisfied with the way things went today. Its a pity I lost a little bit of time to Sanchez, but 21secs is a gap I can easily make up in the time trial on Saturday, said the Rabobank rider, who also finished third in 2008.