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Andy Schleck captures overall Tour de France lead
Two more stages left; Saturday’s time trial a crucial one
The two-time Tour runner-up has acknowledged the advantage he gains from racing alongside his older brother Frank. But the younger Schleck won’t have that support in Saturday’s crucial next-to-last stage, a time trial in which he’ll try to hold onto his lead over Cadel Evans.
The Australian, also a two-time runner-up in cycling’s premier race, is considered better at the solo race against the clock.
Andy Schleck captured the yellow jersey Friday on the famed Alpe d’Huez, setting up a riveting finish to the 2011 race with the time trial followed Sunday by the dash to the Champs Elysees in Paris. The final stage rarely affects the overall standings.
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 three-time Tour champion Alberto Contador.
Schleck, considered one of cycling’s top climbers, protected his 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.
Time trialing, the individual race against the clock excelled at by specialists such as Swiss world champion Fabian Cancellara and U.S. rider David Zabriskie, has long been a weak point for Andy Schleck.
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 together on the winner’s podium in the Tour’s 108-year history.
Andy Schleck said he has not pre-ridden the route for Saturday’s stage, but he dismissed concerns he won’t be able to hold off 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.
Evans beat Schleck by nearly 2 minutes in a 2008 Tour time trial that was about 6.2 miles longer. Schleck was only 23 and riding in his first Tour then, and since has worked on improving in the discipline.
Evans admitted he wished he was not so far behind Schleck going into Saturday’s stage.
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