Frenchman Pierre Rolland of the Europcar team won the 19th stage of the Tour de France, a 109.5 km ride from Modane to the summit of Alpe d’Huez on Friday.
Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck, of Leopard-Trek, took possession of the yellow jersey from Frenchman Thomas Voeckler, who lost over two minutes on the final climb of the race.
In a stage marked by daring attacks from reigning champion Alberto Contador on the first and last climbs of the day, Schleck took the overall lead for the first time in the race by 53secs from his older brother Frank.
However in what could prove to be a fatal blow for the Luxemburgers Australian Cadel Evans, who refused to budge during another epic performance, sits in third place only 57secs off the lead.
Evans is considered the strongest time triallist in the current top ten.
One by one, in reverse order of the standings, the riders will set out Saturday in an individual time trial, the ultimate race against the clock. Their teammates will not be around to pull them along, as they dutifully did through ascents in the Pyrenees and the Alps.
Whoever stands on top after Saturday will be sipping Champagne on Sunday during the final stage, a ceremonial ride into Paris.
“I couldn’t have told a writer to create a better Tour de France,” Schleck said. “It’s all there — the suspense is perfect.”
Much of the suspense lies in the Schleck-Evans showdown. Can Schleck, who is not a strong time trialist, make his lead stand up?
Post race interview Pierre Rolland:
Stage 19 preview:
After so many mountain stages, the individual race against the clock will play the decisive roll in deciding overall victory. The time trial is over undulating terrain and therefore not necessarily suited to the likes of Fabian Cancellara and Gustav Larsson. Strong time triallists who can climb – Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, Levi Leipheimer – will be expected to excel. Whatever happens, the yellow jersey will be decided after this stage.
Video of Stage 20 route:
Overall standings after Stage 19:
1. Andy Schleck (LUX/LEO) 82h48min 43sec
2. Frank Schleck (LUX/LEO) at 0:53sec
3. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) 0:57.
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.
11. Jean Christophe Peraud (FRA/ALM) 9:42.
12. Rein Taaramae (EST/COF) 10:30.
13. Kevin De Weert (BEL/QST) 12:55.
14. Jrome Coppel (FRA/SAU) 16:49.
15. Arnold Jeannesson (FRA/FDJ) 17:42.
16. Haimar Zubeldia (ESP/RSH) 23:17.
17. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN/GRM) 23:22.
18. Christian Vande Velde (USA/GRM) 25:16.
19. Peter Velits (SVK/HTC) 27:55.
20. Rob Ruijgh (NED/VAC) 29:25.
21. Rob Ruijgh (NED/VAC) 29:25.
22. Hubert Dupont (FRA/ALM) 32:46.
23. Rigoberto Uran (COL/SKY) 37:01.
24. Vladimir Gusev (RUS/KAT) 37:44.
25. Gorka Verdugo (ESP/EUS) 39:57.