Schleck is new Tour leader
Alpe d’huez, France — Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck captured the Tour de France yellow jersey on the famed Alpe d’Huez yesterday, lining up a pulsating finish to the 2011 race with this weekend’s time trial and final dash to the Champs Elysees in Paris.
Frenchman Pierre Rolland won the 19th stage, battling up the mountain’s 21 brutally steep bends to finish 14 seconds ahead of Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez and 23 seconds clear of a more dangerous Spanish rival, three-time Tour champion Alberto Contador.
Schleck, who famously lost the 2010 Tour by a mere 39 seconds to Contador, now has a 53-second lead over his brother Frank in second place, while Australia’s Cadel Evans is third, 57 seconds behind.
The 26-year-old Luxembourg rider, considered one of the best climbers in the peloton, kept his 57 second lead over Evans on the last of a three-day stretch of epic mountain stages in the Alps.
But Evans still has every chance of beating both Schleck brothers in Saturday’s time trial in Grenoble, the race’s penultimate stage.
Time trialing, the individual race-against-the-clock race excelled at by specialists like Swiss world champion Fabian Cancellara and US rider David Zabriskie, has long been Schleck’s weak point.
Evans is a strong time trialist, but it will take a superlative performance to make up his 57 second deficit and upset the Schlecks’ long-held dream of becoming the first brothers to finish on the winner’s podium together in the Tour’s 108-year history.
Schleck said he has not pre-ridden Saturday’s stage, a 42.5 kilometer (26.4 mile) individual time trial in Grenoble. But he dismissed concerns that he isn’t a good enough time trialist to hold of Evans.
In 2008 Evans beat Schleck by nearly 2 minutes in a time trial that was about 10 kilometers longer. Schleck was only 23 and riding in his first Tour then, and since then has put significant effort into improving his skills in the specialist discipline.
Evans admitted he wished he was not so far behind Schleck going into today’s stage.
Evans said he’d follow a simple strategy today: “Start as fast as possible, finish as fast as possible, hope you’re fast enough.”
Schleck took the yellow jersey from Frenchman Thomas Voeckler, who cracked on the day’s first climb and never managed to catch the leaders despite a gritty struggle up the Alpe d’Huez.
The Luxembourg rider made good on the promise he made Thursday to capture the jersey, after he missed taking the lead on top of the Galibier pass by only 15 seconds after launching a daring solo attack.
Now he has Monday’s finish line firmly in his sights.
He rode much of the day in a small group alongside Contador, but chose not to follow the Spanish rider when he attacked at the bottom of the 13.8 kilometer (8.5 mile) Alpe d’Huez.
Voeckler rode in 3 minutes and 21 seconds behind Rolland, losing the yellow jersey he had worn for 10 days. Voeckler dropped to fourth place overall, 2 minutes and 10 seconds behind.
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