Andy Schleck is closing on the Tour de France yellow jersey after leaving three-time champion Alberto Contador adrift in the Alps.
The 26-year-old from Luxembourg won the second-last mountain stage with a 37-mile (59.5-kilometer) attack yesterday, moving to within 15 seconds of leader Thomas Voeckler of France. There are three stages remaining.
“I said to myself this morning I’m going to risk everything,” Schleck, a two-time Tour runnerup, told reporters. “That’s the way I am, I’m not afraid of losing.”
Schleck’s brother Frank was second, 2 minutes, 7 seconds behind after a 6-hour slog that ended atop the 2,645-meter (8,700-foot) Col du Galibier. It was the highest stage finish in the race’s 108-year history.
Andy Schleck raced clear of his rivals on the second of three climbs, Col d’Izoard. Contador finished 15th and told reporters it’s now “impossible” for him to win a fourth title in five years.
After today’s stage to Alpe d’Huez, there is a time trial in Grenoble before the last leg to Paris on July 24.
As Schleck rode alone at the front past fans waving Luxembourg’s national flag, Contador started losing ground 1.5 miles from the end of the last 9-mile climb.
“My legs didn’t respond and I hit a wall,” Contador said. He’s now 4 minutes, 44 seconds behind Voeckler, who said he doubts he’ll keep his lead today.
“Everybody knows Andy Schleck is a better climber than me and every day he is stronger,” Voeckler said. “That’s three days now that I’ve lost time.”
The 6-foot-1 Schleck steadily built a lead over as much as 4 minutes over the other contenders. He was supported by Leopard-Trek teammates Joost Posthuma and Maxime Monfort who had been in an initial breakaway on the first climb.
Monfort shielded him from the wind the longest as part of a six-man group at the front.
Australia’s Cadel Evans, a two-time runnerup, didn’t have such support from his BMC Racing team on the final ascent and had to try and chase down Schleck on his own. The Luxembourgian responded, pulled away from Maxim Iglinskiy of the Astana team and rode the rest of the stage alone to finish in 6 hours, 7 minutes and 56 seconds.
Frank Schleck pulled away from Evans over the last few hundred meters to pass him in the overall standings.
The elder Schleck brother is 1 minute, 8 seconds behind Voeckler and Evans is another 4 seconds further back in fourth. Damiano Cunego and Ivan Basso, both Italians, are fifth and sixth, while Contador is seventh.