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Fantastic finish? Tour comes down to a sprint

New overall leader Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, left, and Alberto Contador of Spain climb Galibier pass during Stage 19.

Associated Press

New overall leader Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, left, and Alberto Contador of Spain climb Galibier pass during Stage 19.

ALPE D'HUEZ, France — After 2,105 miles and nearly three weeks of racing, through three steep climbs into the Alps, the Tour de France will be decided today in a 26.4-mile sprint through Grenoble. This is like deciding a marathon with a 100-meter dash.

The potentially dramatic situation emerged Friday when, in the final mountain stage of the Tour, Luxembourg's Andy Schleck secured the overall leader's yellow jersey. Unlike the previous two Tours, he won't enter the penultimate and decisive stage behind Spain's Alberto Contador. But Australia's Cadel Evans lurks close, 57 seconds out, and is considered a superior time trialist.

One by one, in reverse order of the standings, riders will set out today in an individual time trial, the ultimate race against the clock. Their teammates will not be around to pull them along, as they dutifully did through ascents in the Pyrenees and the Alps.

Whoever stands on top after today will be sipping champagne Sunday during the final stage, a ceremonial ride into Paris.

"I couldn't have told a writer to create a better Tour de France," Schleck said. "It's all there — the suspense is perfect."

Much of the suspense lies in the Schleck-Evans showdown. Can Schleck, not a strong time trialist, make his lead stand up?

If Schleck felt he failed to properly widen his gap over Evans, he didn't show it after Stage 19. As he pulled on the yellow jersey, he kissed a stuffed animal, then told reporters: "My motivation is super. My legs are good. The condition is there. So I'm confident I can keep this into Paris."

France's Thomas Voeckler, who had been the leader from Stage 9 until Friday, did what he had predicted for a week: drop in the standings, into fourth. Schleck's brother Frank retained his hold on second.

.Fast facts

Tour de France

Friday: Stage 19, a 68-mile trek took the riders back over the Galibier pass and ended at the Alpe d'Huez. France's Pierre Rolland took both the stage victory and the white jersey of best young rider.

Yellow jersey: France's Thomas Voeckler finally ceded the lead to Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, who leads his brother Frank by 53 seconds. Australia's Cadel Evans (considered a top time trialist) is third, 57 seconds back. Voeckler dropped to fourth.

Today: The penultimate 20th stage is a 26.4-mile time trial starting and ending in the Alpine city of Grenoble.

TV: 8 a.m., Versus

Fantastic finish? Tour comes down to a sprint 07/22/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 22, 2011 9:54pm]
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