Stage 15: Schleck takes L'Alpe d'Huez, Landis yellow again

Schleck wins the legendary L'Alpe d'Huez.  Credit: Friedemann Vogel/Bongarts/Getty Images

American Floyd Landis (Phonak) reclaimed the overall lead in the Tour de France on Tuesday as CSC's Frank Schleck scored the stage victory atop L'Alpe d'Huez.

Landis finished fourth in the 15th stage, held over 187km between Gap and L'Alpe d'Huez, to take the maillot jaune from Spaniard Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears).

Amstel Gold Race champion Schleck, who is making his Tour debut, rode to victory after attacking former Giro d'Italia winner Damiano Cunego with just over 2km to race in the 14.9km climb to the Alpe's summit finish.

Cunego held on for second, nearly a minute ahead of Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas-Bianchi), who was in a small group that contained race favorite Landis.Landis, who unlike some of his close rivals kept his cool on the day's last climb, now leads Pereiro by 10 seconds. Frenchman Cyril Dessel of Ag2R is third overall at 2:02 with Russian Denis Menchov (Rabobank), one of the day's big losers, fourth at 2:12.

The first day in the Alps stayed true to its reputation as a killer of yellow-jersey dreams. After nearly five hours of climbing and descending in hot and humid conditions, the 21-hairpin climb to the legendary Alpe's summit claimed its first major victims.

Rabobank's Menchov, considered Landis's main rival before the stage, was left trailing on the first few kilometers of the Alpe as Landis raced ahead in pursuit of the stage leaders. In the end, the winner of the punishing 11th stage in the Pyrenees lost over a minute to Landis.

Davitamon's Cadel Evans started the climb with Landis and T-Mobile pair Andras Klden and Matthias Kessler; however, the Australian was also left trailing as the Alpe took its toll. Evans finished out of the top 10 on the stage and lost nearly a minute and a half to Landis, dropping one place to seventh overall. Evans is now nearly three minutes behind the race leader.

Spaniard Carlos Sastre (CSC) maintained his chances of a top finish on the race after he finished ninth to stay fifth overall at 2:17 behind Landis.

With two tough days in the Alps to come and most of the big favorites within three minutes' reach of Landis, the race is far from being over.

Schleck, who was part of an 18-man breakaway that escaped from the peloton early in the race, played his hand to perfection.

Italian climber Cunego had been the first to attack from an eight-man group of riders that had emerged from the 18 early on the climb of the Alpe. Behind them, Landis's group was chasing with close to a three-minute deficit, and soon began to close in on the trailers.

Cunego's pace eliminated even more of his stage rivals, and soon only Schleck was able to follow him. The Luxemburger rode alongside the diminutive Italian until, with a little more than 2km to go, he upped the pace himself.

It proved decisive. Cunego couldn't follow, and crossed 10 seconds behind the victorious Luxembourger.

"I don't really realize what I've done yet," said a delighted Schleck.

Despite Schleck's feat on one of the race's legendary climbs, last won by Lance Armstrong after a 15km time trial in 2004, it was Landis who emerged as the big winner on the day after he easily reclaimed the yellow jersey.

Friedemann Vogel/Bongarts/Getty Images George Hincapie of the USA and Discovery reacts as he crosses the line of Stage 15. Originally pegged as a Tour favorite, Hincapie is having a Tour he'd just assume forget.

Despite a brief show of promise by George Hincapie, the Discovery Channel team's best finisher on the day was Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych who finished more than four minutes behind Schleck.

Landis, who left Lance Armstrong's old team, U.S. Postal, because of differences of opinion with the American, has moved a step closer to succeeding the 34-year-old Texan.

Davitamon's Evans had started the final climb of the day with Landis and T-Mobile pair Andreas Klden and Matthias Kessler however the Australian was soon left trailing.

Evans finished 16th at 2:29 behind Schleck, losing nearly a minute and a half to Landis and dropping two places to seventh overall at 2:56 behind Landis.

That allowed the American to pull on the race's yellow jersey for the second time in the race, having worn it for a day during stage 12 before allowing Pereiro possession after a 28-minute breakaway.

Despite admitting he intends to race conservatively in the coming two days in the Alps, Landis hopes to hold on to it all the way to Paris this Sunday.

"I think I'll be conservative for the next two days. I don't have to win a stage. I'd like to, but I don't have to," said the American.

Landis had come under some criticism for not trying to defend the race's coveted jersey during stage 13.

"I don't care at all what people thought about that," Landis said. "It was the wise thing to do.

"Bike racing is a tactical game. My way of thinking is I would like to save my team as much as possible, right up until the last day if its possible.

"With that in mind, I will do what I can do to race conservatively, and let other people win stages," Landis added. "If I finish the race without a stage (win) but with the yellow jersey, I will be more than happy."

With another two tough days in the Alps and a 57km time trial to come and six riders within three minutes' reach of Landis, the race is far from over.

Stage 15: Top 10

1. Frank Schleck (Lux), CSC
2. Damiano Cunego (I), Lampre, at 0:11
3. Stefano Garzelli (I), Liquigas-Bianchi, at 1:10
4. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak, same time
5. Andras Klöden (G), T-Mobile, s.t.
6. Ruben Lobato (Sp), Saunier Duval, at 1:14
7. Sylvain Chavanel (F), Cofidis, at 1:18
8. Eddy Mazzoleni (I), T-Mobile, at 1:28
9. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC, at 1:35
10. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Gerolsteiner, at 1:49

Stage 15: Complete results

Overall after 15 stages

1. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak
2. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Sp), Caisse d'Epargne-I.B., at 0:10
3. Cyril Dessel (F), Ag2r Prevoyance, at 2:02
4. Denis Menchov (Rus), Rabobank, at 2:12
5. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC, at 2:17
6. Andras Klöden (G), T-Mobile, at 2:29
7. Cadel Evans (Aus), Davitamon-Lotto, at 2:56
8. Michael Rogers (Aus), T-Mobile, at 5:01
9. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Gerolsteiner, at 6:18
10. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 6:20

Stage 15: Complete overall standings

Stage 15: Category standings


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