On the final day in the Alps, the Tour de France has a new leader: Andy Schleck.
Andy Schleck takes over at the front of Tour de France
ALPE D'HUEZ // On the final day in the Alps, the Tour de France has a new leader: Andy Schleck.
The Luxembourg rider overtook the Frenchman, Thomas Voeckler, yesterday, making up a 15-second deficit during a 68-mile stage that sent riders up the brutally steep Alpe d'Huez.
Voeckler cracked on the first of three daunting climbs. He never caught the leaders despite a gritty struggle and gave up the yellow jersey after wearing it for 10 days.
With the race ending tomorrow in Paris, Schleck leads his brother, Frank, by 53 seconds. Australia's Cadel Evans is third, 57 seconds behind.
Andy Schleck, runner-up to Alberto Contador the past two years, said the maillot jaune will help power him to victory.
"Many riders say that the yellow jersey gives you wings and I hope that will be the case," he said.
"I couldn't have told a writer to create a better Tour de France. It's all there; the suspense is perfect.
"You could say 'It's only a minute' or you can say 'It's a minute'.
"I count on myself for the time-trial. I'll do a good ride. I think I can hold onto the yellow jersey.
"Every second counts and I've worked a lot on my time-trial and I'll go full-gas and hope that it's enough."
Evans is the superior time-trial rider and was content merely to mark the Schleck brothers throughout the day, thinking ahead to today's stage, which will almost certainly determine who will be wearing the yellow jersey following tomorrow's final stage and become champion.
The Frenchman, Pierre Rolland, captured the 19th stage, rewarding thousands of wildly cheering French fans who packed the finish.
He attacked near the end of the mountain's 21 punishing bends, dropping Contador and the Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez as he crossed the line first by a margin of 14 seconds.
"I grew up watching Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani, watching how they climb the Alpe d'Huez," Rolland said. "Now I've won the Alpe d'Huez. It's going to take a minute to sink in."
Schleck made good on Thursday's promise to capture the yellow jersey after missing a chance to take the lead on top of the Galibier pass following a daring solo attack.
Schleck rode much of the day in a small group alongside the Spaniard Contador, but chose not to follow the three-time champion when he attacked at the bottom of the Alpe d'Huez.
Rolland, who rides for Europcar and is in his third Tour, attacked as the stage drew to a tense finish toward the top of the 1,860m final climb.
He clenched his fists and grinned widely as he crossed the line ahead of Sanchez and Contador, who was 23 seconds behind.
Andy Schleck rode in 57 seconds behind Rolland in a group of six riders that included his brother and Evans.
Voeckler was more than three minutes behind Rolland and dropped to fourth place overall, 2:10 adrift.
Points classification leader Mark Cavendish, the Briton who rides for HTC-Highroad, rolled in as part of a large group, 25:26 behind.
The time limit was set at 25:09 and it could be that Cavendish and the rest of the grupetto are docked 20 points, as they were yesterday.
The good news for Cavendish, though, is that his nearest rival, Jose Joaquin Rojas of Movistar, was also in the grupetto, and if a points penalty is implemented by race organisers the Manxman will retain his 15-point lead.
For Contador, the chances of a fourth title appear to be over. He is 3:55 behind, in sixth place overall, and his lone bid to return to contention floundered in the final 3km.
"I had nothing to lose," he said. "I couldn't stand the idea of leaving this race without doing anything."
As for his successor as race winner, Contador expects it to be tight.
He added: "Evans has a minute to get back but he could be up there.
"It's going to be close."