Battle for Tour de France victory down to 57 seconds
Andy Schleck, the runner-up from the past two years, is leading the overall standings. But Australian Cadel Evans could overtake him before Sunday's finale in Paris.
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Evans’ deficit of 57 seconds behind Schleck isn’t insurmountable. During the final individual time trial in 1989, American Greg LeMond erased a 50-second deficit and ended up beating France’s Laurent Fignon by eight seconds. It was the closest overall finish in Tour history. (Editor's note: the original version of this story misstated Evans's deficit.)Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Cycling in stages: Tour de France 2011
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Schleck's rollercoaster week in the Alps
After Wednesday’s Stage 17, he was more than two minutes and a half behind then-leader Thomas Voeckler.
Dissatisfied with his performance and the stage’s treacherous descent, he lashed out at Tour organizers.
“I think the course was badly chosen,” he said. “We don't want to see riders crashing or taking risks.”
Two days later, his tune has changed. He’s leading the Tour de France for the first time since last year’s Stage 15, when he suffered a mechanical breakdown and Alberto Contador controversially took advantage.
“It’s always a dream to have the yellow jersey and it’s a reality now,” said Schleck. “But I know this isn’t finished until the day after tomorrow.”
Contador attacked again today, though in a more sporting fashion. He and Schleck were seen during the stage exchanging glances and talking.
With about 7.5 miles left on the steep switchbacks of Alpe D’Huez, Contador launched himself up the mountain.
But it was too little, too late for the two-time defending champion – he only picked up 34 seconds on his rival. A year after taking his third Tour de France title, it appears Contador will not even make the podium, which features the top three places.
First French win on iconic Alpe d'Huez stage since '86
After wearing the yellow jersey for 10 stages, France’s Thomas Voeckler – who achieved the same feat in 2004 – was unable to keep up with the Schlecks and Evans on Alpe d’Huez.
Appearing exhausted and breathing heavily at the finish line during a French TV interview, he went through a list of thank-yous like an actor winning an Oscar.
“This is for all of the teammates on my Europcar team, especially,” he said.
There was silver lining for Europcar today, however – they exchanged the yellow jersey for white, the jersey worn by the best young rider. Pierre Rolland, who won today’s stage, is now leading that category.
Remarkably, Rolland was the first Frenchman to win at the famed Alpe d’Huez since Bernard Hinault in 1986.
“Growing up I watched Lance Armstrong and [Marco] Pantani climbing Alpe d’Huez,” he said. “It’s really a great moment.”