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Published: Saturday July 23, 2011 MYT 8:50:00 AM
ALPE D'HUEZ, France (AP) — Luxembourg's Andy Schleck captured the Tour de France yellow jersey on the famed Alpe d'Huez on Friday, lining up a pulsating finish to the 2011 race with this weekend's time trial and final dash to the Champs Elysees in Paris.
The 26-year-old rider who famously said "my stomach is full of anger and I want to take revenge" after losing the 2010 Tour by a mere 39 seconds, has just under a one minute advantage over Australia's Cadel Evans going into Saturday's time trial, the last big obstacle to Schleck finally avenging his loss and donning the yellow jersey on the Champs Elysees podium.
Schleck, a two-time Tour runner up to Spain's Alberto Contador, has long spoken of the advantage he gains from racing alongside his older brother Frank, who is now second overall, 53 seconds behind Andy.
But Saturday's race will pit the younger Schleck against Evans, also a two-time Tour runner up and a notably better time trialist, with nothing his brother can do to help.
Frenchman Pierre Rolland won the 19th stage, battling up the mountain's 21 brutally steep bends to finish 14 seconds ahead of Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez and 23 seconds clear of a more dangerous Spanish rival, three-time Tour champion Alberto Contador.
Schleck, who famously lost the 2010 Tour by a mere 39 seconds to Contador, now has a 53-second lead over his brother Frank in second place, while Australia's Cadel Evans is third, 57 seconds behind.
Schleck knocked Contador out of the running in Thursday's race up the Galibier pass, launching a daring solo attack from over 30 miles out that his rival couldn't match.
The 26-year-old Luxembourg rider, considered one of the best climbers in the peloton, kept his 57 second lead over Evans on the Alpe d'Huez, the last of a three-day stretch of epic mountain stages in the Alps and one of the most famous climbs in cycling.
But Evans still has every chance of beating both Schleck brothers in Saturday's time trial in Grenoble, the race's penultimate stage.
Time trialing, the individual race-against-the-clock race excelled at by specialists like Swiss world champion Fabian Cancellara and US rider David Zabriskie, has long been Schleck's weak point.
Evans is a strong time trialist, but it will take a superlative performance to make up his 57 second deficit and upset the Schlecks' long-held dream of becoming the first brothers to finish on the winner's podium together in the Tour's 108-year history.
Schleck said he has not pre-ridden Saturday's stage, a 42.5 kilometer (26.4 mile) individual time trial in Grenoble. But he dismissed concerns that he isn't a good enough time trialist to hold of Evans.
"Everybody tells me it's a time trial that suits me good, so I believe everybody and hope to show a good performance tomorrow," Schleck said.
In 2008 Evans beat Schleck by nearly 2 minutes in a time trial that was about 10 kilometers longer. Schleck was only 23 and riding in his first Tour then, and since then has put significant effort into improving his skills in the specialist discipline.
Evans admitted he wished he was not so far behind Schleck going into Saturday's stage.
"Of course I'd like to take more time going into the time trial," Evans said. "I'd much rather be in yellow, with five minutes" going into the stage.
Evans said he'd follow a simple strategy Saturday: "Start as fast as possible, finish as fast as possible, hope you're fast enough."
Schleck took the yellow jersey from Frenchman Thomas Voeckler, who cracked on the day's first climb and never managed to catch the leaders despite a gritty struggle up the Alpe d'Huez.
The Luxembourg rider made good on the promise he made Thursday to capture the jersey, after he missed taking the lead on top of the Galibier pass by only 15 seconds after launching a daring solo attack.
Now he has Sunday's finish line firmly in his sights.
"My motivation is super, my legs are good, my condition is there, so I'm confident I can keep this till Paris," Schleck said.
He rode much of the day in a small group alongside Contador, but chose not to follow the Spanish rider when he attacked at the bottom of the 13.8 kilometer (8.5 mile) Alpe d'Huez.
"I had no interest in chasing Contador or Sanchez," Schleck said, as neither rider was in contention for the yellow jersey."Today I had bigger goals than to win the stage."
Rolland crossed the line after attacking near the end of the day's route, packed with thousands of wildly cheering cycling fans.
Rolland, a 24-year-old rider from team Europcar, attacked as the demanding 109.5 km (68 mile) race over three difficult climbs drew to a tense finish, finally dropping Contador and Sanchez toward the top of the 6,100 foot final climb.
Rolland, who is riding in his third Tour, clenched his fists and grinned widely as he crossed the line 14 seconds ahead of Sanchez and 23 seconds ahead of Contador.
"I grew up watching Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani, watching how they climb the Alpe d'Huez," Rolland said. "Now I've won the Alpe d'Huez, it's going to take a minute to sink in."
Andy Schleck rode in 57 seconds behind Rolland in a group of six riders that included his brother and Evans.
Voeckler rode in 3 minutes and 21 seconds behind Rolland, losing the yellow jersey he had worn for 10 days. Voeckler dropped to fourth place overall, 2 minutes and 10 seconds behind.
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