Andy Schleck Wins on Galibier after Daring Attack in Tour de France 2011

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07/21/2011| 0 comments
by AP and Roadcycling.com
Photo Fotoreporter Sirotti.
Photo Fotoreporter Sirotti.

Andy Schleck Wins on Galibier after Daring Attack in Tour de France 2011

Andy Schleck led a daring attack to win the 18th stage of the Tour de France on Thursday, leaving Thomas Voeckler clinging to the yellow jersey and defending champion Alberto Contador out of contention.

Andy Schleck led a daring attack to win the 18th stage of the Tour de France on Thursday, leaving Thomas Voeckler clinging to the yellow jersey and defending champion Alberto Contador out of contention.

Contador had a dismal final climb, and the Spaniard insists his chances are gone for a fourth title in cycling's showcase race.

"Victory is impossible now," he said. "I had a bad day. My legs didn't respond and I just hit a wall. It was a very difficult day right from the start."

Schleck began the day in fourth place and is now 15 seconds behind Voeckler. He attacked his top rivals on the second of three grueling climbs and held on all the way on the fabled Galibier pass to the highest-altitude finish in the race's 108-year history.

"I told the team yesterday that I had this in mind. I wasn't going to be fourth in Paris," Schleck said. "I said I'd risk it all. ... It's my character: I'm not afraid to lose."

"I felt super good today," the Luxembourg rider added. "Tomorrow is another day, and I hope to have the yellow jersey."

Interestingly Schleck did not repeat his criticism of the Tour's descents after today's stage in which Schleck was successful - contrary to what has been the case in the last two days.

Frank Schleck finished second today, trailing his brother by 2 minutes, 7 seconds. Cadel Evans of Australia was third over the 125-mile route from Pinerolo. Voeckler was fifth on Thursday, 2:21 behind. Frank Schleck was third overall, 1:08 back.

Contador was the day's biggest loser, trailing in 15th place -- 3:50 behind. Overall, he trails the French leader by 4:44 in seventh place.

"Please, let me breathe," an exhausted Voeckler said at the finish, mustering the strength to raise a fist in joy once he saw he'd kept the yellow jersey. "At 2,650 meters, the oxygen is thin."

"I limited the damage," he added. "I went all out."

Schleck, the Leopard Trek team leader, came in knowing that he would need to gain time on rivals ahead of Saturday's time trial -- a discipline that's not his specialty.

On Friday, the pack faces the last of three days in the Alps. It again features an uphill finish at the renowned and dreaded Alpe d'Huez.

Ahead of the stage, Contador tweeted in Spanish about "What leg pain!" awaits on three climbs so tough they defy cycling's rating climbs: the Col d'Agnel, the Col d'Izoard and the Col du Galibier.

The pack scaled more than 37 miles of total climbs, about one-third of which had a gradient of more than 9 percent. Tour director Christian Prudhomme called the 15-mile Col d'Agnel (9,000 feet) the hardest climb in this year's race.

Agnel, the day's first big climb, wasn't the site of the showdown. At one point there, Contador drifted back to the race doctor for a check, though it wasn't immediately clear why.

Instead, Andy Schleck took his chance on Col d'Izoard. After riding behind Leopard Trek teammate Stuart O'Grady, he sped from

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