Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck set up a penultimate stage duel with Australian Cadel Evans after pulling on the Tour de France yellow jersey on the summit of Alpe d’Huez Friday. Frenchman Pierre Rolland of the Europcar team won the 19th stage, a 109.5 km ride from Modane to the legendary summit, to stun some bigger names on what was the last day in the mountains.
But as he handed the French their first victory of the 98th edition, the race’s big prize has yet to be settled. In a stage marked by daring attacks from reigning champion Alberto Contador on the first and last climbs, Schleck took the overall lead from Frenchman Thomas Voeckler, who lost 3:22 to drop to fourth overall at 2:10. He now leads older brother Frank by 53-seconds but in what could prove to be a fatal blow for the Luxemburgers, Evans sits in third place only 57 off the lead.
As his rivals went on the attack for the second day in a row Evans fought another valiant battle to limit the damage. The Australian is considered the strongest time triallist in the race’s top ten and his performance means he will start Saturday’s penultimate stage, a 42.5 km time trial around Grenoble, with a solid chance of winning the race. Schleck, however, remains defiant he can take the yellow jersey into Paris for Sunday’s final stage which, traditionally, is not disputed by the overall contenders.
“The Tour’s been quite good for me so far, I’ve had one bad day, my legs are good and I’m confident I can actually keep this till Paris,” said Schleck, the runner-up to Contador the past two years. “It’s not a course for the big specialists, and everybody tells me it’s a course that suits me so I’m hoping that will be the case tomorrow. The race is not finished, I have the yellow jersey on my shoulders and I’m sure that’s going to be a huge motivation.”
A day after Schleck slashed his deficit to Voeckler to just 15-seconds after an epic attack 62 km from the summit of the Galibier mountain pass, which left Contador conceding defeat, Schleck had a rude awakening. Contador attacked on the Col du Telegraphe after just 15km of racing and, after being joined by Schleck and then caught by Evans’ trailing group on the descent of the Galibier the Spaniard attacked at the foot of the 13.8 km climb to the summit of Alpe d’Huez.
The Saxo Bank leader looked to be heading for the stage win that would make amends for his spectacular collapse on Thursday. But as the climb’s legendary 21 hairpin bends began to take their toll he was eventually caught by fellow Spaniard Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel and Rolland with 3km to race. Rolland then attacked solo 2km from the finish and went on to savour his maiden win on the race. The Frenchman had spent the past 10 days helping support Thomas Voeckler and seized his chance when it became clear his team leader had no chance of defending the jersey.
“On the Galibier Thomas (Voeckler) told me, ‘forget about me’. That’s when I decided to go for it,” said Rolland, who in winning the stage took possession of the youth classification’s white jersey from Rein Taaramae. “I knew the climb to the summit of Alpe d’Huez very well I did it 10 times during a training camp.”
Sanchez eventually finished second at 14-seconds down with Contador third at 23-seconds back. Contador is now sixth overall at 3:55 behind Schleck with Sanchez in seventh at 4:22. Evans pulled himself over the line 57-seconds behind Rolland with the Schleck brothers in tow. The Australian, however, was tight-lipped about his victory chances: “I don’t know if I’ll win the Tour, we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out.”
Tour de France Stage 19
1. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EUC) 3:13:25
2. Samuel Sanchez (ESP/EUS) @ 14
3. Alberto Contador (ESP/SAX) @ .23
4. Peter Velits (SVK/HTC) @ .57
5. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) @ s.t.
6. Thomas DE GEN (BEL/VAC)
7. Damiano Cunego (ITA/LAM)
8. Frank Schleck (LUX/LEO)
9. Andy Schleck (LUX/LEO)
10. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN/GRM) @ 1:15
General Classification After Stage 19
1. Andy Schleck (LUX/LEO) 82:48:43
2. Frank Schleck (LUX/LEO) @ .53
3. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) @ .57
4. Thomas Voeckler (FRA/EUC) @ 2:10
5. Damiano Cunego (ITA/LAM) @ 3:31
6. Alberto Contador (ESP/SAX) @ 3:55
7. Samuel Sanchez (ESP/EUS) @ 4:22
8. Ivan Basso (ITA/LIQ) @ 4:40
9. Tom Danielson (USA/GRM) @ 7:11
10. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EUC) @ 8:57