Schleck cycles past Evans to take yellow in Tour

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Schleck cycles past Evans to take yellow in Tour


New overall leader Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, right, and Alberto Contador of Spain climb toward Madeleine pass during the 9th stage of the Tour de France cycling race in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, France, on July 13.[AP/YONHAP]

SAINT-JEAN-DE-MAURIENNE, France - Andy Schleck took possession of the Tour de France yellow jersey in dramatic fashion Tuesday after an epic day of racing that virtually ended a shot at victory for Cadel Evans.

Luxemburger Schleck, the Saxo Bank climbing specialist who finished runner-up to Alberto Contador in 2009, now leads what appears to be a two-man race with a 41-second lead on the Spaniard.

Frenchman Sandy Casar took the stage honors after a thrilling ninth stage from Morzine that included a gruelling ascension over the Col de la Madeleine - the fourth and last climb of the race. Casar, of Francaise des Jeux, was one of the last remnants of a larger breakaway group that was joined in the final kilometer by a trio that included Schleck and reigning champion Contador.

Casar had done most of the work dragging his three companions to the line in the final kilometers, but shortly after they were caught he pulled to the front inside the final kilometer and held on to claim his third career stage win in the race.

It was the first time in the race that Schleck has taken possession of the yellow jersey, and he was clearly affected by the feat. But he kept enough composure to challenge Contador to an imminent duel in the Pyrenees, where four stages beginning Sunday will play a key role in deciding the outcome of this year’s Tour.

“We’re both at about the same level, although now I have a lead of 41 seconds,” said Schleck, who won the stage to Morzine-Avoriaz on Sunday to close to within 20 seconds of Evans. “It’s now up to him [Contador] to attack in the Pyrenees.”

With Lance Armstrong already out of the equation on Sunday, and Evans’ collapse Tuesday, Contador said he now has a clearer idea of who his main rival is.

“I know what my aim is now, and which wheel I have to follow: Andy Schleck’s. I think he’s the most dangerous,” said the Spaniard, who up until now has been largely unchallenged on the race’s tough climbs. “It was a really epic stage, and the very hard climb to the Madeleine left a lot of people struggling.”

Overnight race leader Evans started trailing halfway through the climb of the Madeleine, and shortly afterwards Contador and Schleck made the Australian’s task even more difficult when they attacked all the other favorites. Schleck accelerated several times in a bid to shake Contador off his wheel.

When that tactic failed, the pair agreed on a pact of non-aggression and raced the remainder of the climb together. Schleck and Contador came over the summit with a 2:10 deficit to the leading group, while Evans crossed over seven minutes later. Evans eventually finished 8:09 behind Schleck and Contador, dropping 17 places to 18th at 7:47 behind Schleck.

The Australian, a two-time runner-up in 2007 and 2008, came into the race after an impressive Giro d’Italia, where he finished fifth overall. Admitting his Tour is now all but over, the Aussie later revealed that an injury to his left arm sustained in a crash early on the eighth stage Sunday had left him under par.

“I’m not at my normal level, but when you’re in the yellow jersey... you have to be there,” Evans said.

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