The last mountain stage of this year's Tour de France panned out reasonably well for Team Leopard Trek, with Andy Schleck taking the yellow jersey from Europcar's Thomas Voeckler as planned, and his brother Fränk moving up the classification from third to second. The younger of the two followed Alberto Contador's early attack on the Col du Telegraphe, while Fränk rejoined the leaders before the mythical Alpe-d'Huez.
"This has always been our dream, and now it's become a reality. We are very motivated now to maintain our GC placings like this until Paris," Andy Schleck said at the finish.
The new overall leader took control of the race in stage 18 to the Galibier, in which he launched a powerful solo attack with 60 kilometres to go, and finally took the jersey from Voeckler today.
"I wasn't afraid of this stage. Sure, I went in a long escape yesterday, in the wind, and I left a lot of energy there. But those riders who came in a few minutes behind me did the same work. Some of them looked as if they were even more worn out than I was. I think if you are strong in the mountains today, you'll be strong tomorrow," he shrugged.
Johnny Schleck, a proud father of his sons, was at the finish atop the Alpe. "It's incredible what they have done. I am very proud of both of them. For Andy to have taken the jersey from Voeckler is enormous as he is very strong," the former professional said.
The final test of tomorrow's time trial in Grenoble will determine the overall winner of the Tour. Schleck leads his brother Frank by 53 seconds, and BMC's Cadel Evans by 57 seconds. In theory, the Australian is the better time triallist, but the Luxembourger felt confident that he would be able to take the jersey to Paris.
"I believe I can keep the jersey," Andy Schleck said. "I'm in great form, and this time trial route is not one for the real specialists of the discipline. It will be much more about who still has the most energy left - and I still do.
"I'll start last tomorrow, and my motivation is great, my legs are super so I'm confident I can actually keep this jersey until Paris. 57 seconds is a lot, and when you have the yellow jersey it gives you wings..."
Unfortunately, his father Johnny described the situation a little differently. "I don't think it's possible," he told reporters on the finish line. "Cadel Evans is one of the best time triallists in the world, and he already knows the time trial well from the Dauphine. But I still have hope, and I know that the last week of the Tour also means different parameters. Both Fränk and Andy are strong in the last week, and perhaps Cadel will have a bad day."
Evans finished sixth, at 1:20 adrift of then-stage winner Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) on the exact same course of the race against the clock in the Dauphine one month ago.
Schleck, whose last race before the Tour was the Tour de Suisse, conceded that he had never ridden the Grenoble course and only knew it from television footage. "But I know a little bit what it's like from talking to the guys who did it in the Dauphine," he said. "Everybody tells me it's a course that suits me well, so I believe them... and I hope to show a great performance tomorrow."
The Tour's final showdown will take place in Grenoble on Saturday, and with three riders all within one minute of each other on the GC, uncertainty about the overall win will be upheld until the end. Even the usually outspoken Bernard Hinault held back when asked to name the winner in Paris.
"57 seconds is a very narrow margin," the 'Badger' assessed, contradicting Schleck. "Cadel Evans has always proved to be a superior rider in the time trial. But I really can't make any prognosis because it's so tight between them that we'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out!"
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