After the last grueling stage in the Alps, First Endurance riders Andy & Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) have moved into first and second overall on general classification in the Tour de France.
“I have never been so close to winning the Tour in my life,” said Andy. “It’s a dream I have had since I was a little boy. I’m incredibly happy. It was the ideal scenario that I take yellow in the Alps. Last year, I had it too, but it might have been too early and a bit too long to defend it.”
The profile of the 109-kilometer stage suggested the day would start fast and stay fast over the three monster climbs. The first category Télégraphe, on which Contador launched his first attack, came only 15 kilometers into the stage and served as a warm-up for the hors categorie climb up the north face of Col du Galibier and the infamous Alpe d’Huez mountaintop finish.
“I think today’s stage was fantastic,” commented Andy. “It’s short. It almost felt like an Alpine sprint. The suspense was big. There were lot of Luxembourg people on the road. They make me fly.”
Contador’s first attack provoked a reaction from Andy, Fränk Schleck, Cadel Evans (BMC) and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar). Multiple accelerations later, Contador had rid himself of Voecker, Fränk and Evans, who suffered from an untimely mechanical. Andy held tight to Contador’s wheel as the Spaniard led the duo past the remnants of a break that never fully had a chance to form. Contador and Andy became part of a group of nine as they crested the Télégraphe’s summit.
“Yesterday, I went on the attack. Today I could afford to defend a little more,” noted Andy. “When Alberto went, I thought this was a move that could determine the day. I could go with him without going too deep. I was a bit cautious because you never know what’s going to happen behind, and it was a heavy stage. It could still be that people would hesitate and it would be the right move, so I went.”
Contador launched an attack on the early slopes of Alpe d’Huez. Jakob Fuglsang bridged the gap for his team captains with Evans on their wheel. Contador accelerated a second time and slipped away up the road. He would blast past Rolland, who along with Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervélo), had launched an earlier move. Contador stayed away until four kilometers from the finish when Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Rolland would bridge and eventually pass him.
“I really didn’t have any concerns with the riders out front. I knew Alberto wasn’t a danger anymore,” explained Andy. “I didn’t want to pull too hard because I thought Evans would attack — which he did. Although he tried, he couldn’t drop me, so it’s very good.”
Evans sprinted towards the line atop Alpe d’Huez, but was unable to put any time distance between himself and the others in the five-rider group. Andy will wear yellow during the penultimate stage in Grenoble tomorrow. The 41 kilometer individual time trial covers a rolling parcours that was featured in the Dauphiné last month.
“It’s not finished yet,” reminded Andy. “We have an important day tomorrow. We know Cadel is a time trial specialist, and I’m not. I think I stand a chance. A time trial at the end of a three week tour is different than a time trial on any other day. [Sports Director] Kim Andersen tells me the course suits me well. I didn’t do the reconnaissance, but I saw it on television when the peloton did it on the Dauphiné, so I have a clue what it’s like. Many riders say the yellow jersey gives you wings,” added Andy. “I’m confident I can do well tomorrow and bring the jersey home for Luxembourg.”
General classification after stage 19
1 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 82:48:43
2 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:00:53
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:57