Andy Schleck impresses with a breakaway solo climb to win the 18th Stage of the Tour de France and close on leader, Thomas Voeckler.
Schleck climbing to top but just misses out on yellow jersey
LE MONETIER-LES-BAINS, FRANCE // Andy Schleck won the 18th stage of the Tour de France in a dazzling solo breakaway attack in the Alps yesterday, while Thomas Voeckler barely held on to the overall leader's yellow jersey.
Schleck attacked his main rivals on the second of three gruelling climbs and led all the way up 22.8km to the highest-altitude finish in the race's 108-year history, on the fabled Galibier pass, 2,645m above sea level.
Explaining why he had gone for broke, the stage winner said: "I don't want to finish fourth in Paris, and I said to myself 'I'm going to risk everything, it'll work or it'll fail.' That's the way I am. I'm not afraid of losing. And if my legs were hurting out in front I knew the others would be hurting to catch me up.
"I've won the stage, I'm into second overall, perhaps tomorrow it'll be the yellow jersey. I wanted to take the jersey but [Voeckler] surprised everyone."
Voeckler, the French cyclist, was 2:21 behind and saw his overall lead shrink to a mere 15 seconds over Schleck, whose brother, Frank, is third overall, 1:08 back. The three-time champion Alberto Contador was the day's biggest loser, trailing in 15th place, 3:50 behind.
The Spaniard was sixth when the gruelling 200.5km run began, 3:15 off the pace, but dropped back to seventh to lie 4:44 behind overall leader Voeckler after failing to keep tabs with the main yellow-jersey contenders in the closing kilometres.
That could well be "game over" for the controversial Saxo Bank rider.
For the Australian Cadel Evans it is still very much "game on", with the closing Alps stage today and tomorrow's penultimate 20th stage time trial still to come.
Frank Schleck was second in yesterday's stage, 2:07 behind his brother. Evans was third over the 201km route from Pinerolo.
Andy Schleck, the Leopard-Trek team leader, came in knowing that he needed to gain time ahead of tomorrow's time trial - a discipline that is not his speciality.
The pack faces the last of three days in the Alps today.
It again features an uphill finish, this time to the renowned and dreaded Alpe d'Huez.