Schleck wins 18th stage, Voeckler leads

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Andy Schleck roared to victory on the history-making 18th stage featuring the highest ever finish in Tour de France history here Thursday. France’s Thomas Voeckler put up a successful effort to retain the leader’s yellow jersey on the punishing second of three day’s riding in the Alps, crossing the 2,645 metre Col du Galibier summit in fifth.
Schleck, who began the day 2min 36sec behind Voeckler, gambled with a solo attack on the gruelling 23km climb up Galibier, and the Luxembourger rounded the final bend with yellow in his grasp. But Voeckler gritted his teeth to hold onto the lead by 15sec. Schleck’s brother, Frank, took second in the stage to lie third in the overall standings, 1:08 adrift, with Australian Cadel Evans, third to cross the line, 1:12 off the lead in fourth.
Alberto Contador, bidding for a fourth successive title, was the day’s biggest loser. The Spaniard started out on the gruelling 200.5km run in sixth, 3:15 off the pace, but dropped back to seventh to lie 4:44 behind Voeckler.
Farewell to Alpe d’Huez: The last time the Alpe d’Huez featured as a stage finish on the Tour de France, Spaniard Carlos Sastre attacked early on the legendary 13.8 km climb to put one arm into the yellow jersey. Australia’s Cadel Evans, the main victim on that third from last stage in 2008, will be hoping to avoid such a fate on the 109.5 km 19th stage from Modane to the Alpe’s 1850-metre summit on Friday.
Before the end of Thursday’s 18th stage Evans was second overall at 1min 18sec behind surprise leader Thomas Voeckler of France and with a four-second lead on Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck of Leopard-Trek. BMC leader Evans also has a lead of 1:41 on Euskaltel’s Samuel Sanchez, and a lead of 1:57 on three-time and defending champion Alberto Contador of Saxo Bank.
Although the yellow jersey could change hands on stage 18, which features three unclassified climbs and finishes on the summit of the Galibier, stage 19 promises to play a role in deciding the race podium. Beginning in Modane on the northern Italian border the peloton will ride an easy 14 km before tackling the 11.9 km climb to the summit of the Col du Telegraphe at an average gradient of 7.1 percent.
A short descent leads to the foot of the Col du Galibier, which will feature for the second time in as organisers pay tribute to its 100th anniversary having first been crested in 1911.