Schleck takes lead; Armstrong falls back
SAINT-JEAN-DE-MAURIENNE, France — Andy Schleck of Luxembourg captured the overall lead at the Tour de France yesterday at the end of the mountainous ninth stage won by Frenchman Sandy Casar.
Schleck took the yellow jersey from Australia’s Cadel Evans, who wore it for only one day, after finishing seventh in the stage, two seconds behind Casar and alongside two-time winner Alberto Contador.
Evans was dropped on the fabled Madeleine pass and lost more than eight minutes on Schleck and Contador. Team doctor Max Testa said Evans was riding with a “small but very painful’’ fracture on his elbow after crashing in the eighth stage Sunday.
Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong fared relatively well as many other riders dropped off the title contenders on the Madeleine — one of the toughest climbs in cycling. The Texan finished 18th, 2:50 behind Casar.
Armstrong rose in the standings to 31st, from 39th, but lost time in the overall title chase. He’s 15:54 behind Schleck.
Casar led a sprint among seven breakaway riders at the finish of the 127-mile trek from Morzine to Saint-Jean-La-Maurienne — the second and final day in the Alps containing three tough climbs.
Casar collected his third career stage win at the Tour, blazing ahead of Luis-Leon Sanchez in second and Damiano Cunego in third — all three clocking 5 hours, 38 minutes, 10 seconds.
“It’s pure happiness,’’ said Casar. “I wanted it so much, it couldn’t have happened any other way.’’
Contador and Schleck trailed two seconds back, setting the stage for a two-man fight for the title. Schleck leads his Spanish rival by 41 seconds, while Spain’s Samuel Sanchez — who finished eighth, 52 seconds back — moved to third and trails the leader by 2:45.
For a while, it looked like Luis-Leon Sanchez, who entered the day in 20th place — 5:03 back of Evans — might take the yellow jersey. He was among 12 cyclists who broke away and had a lead of roughly 6 1/2 minutes on the pack about two-thirds of the way through the stage before the Madeleine.
Then Schleck and Contador engaged in a dramatic duel about midway through the punishing climb, with the Luxembourg rider attacking on several occasions — but unable to shake the Spaniard.
At the top of the Madeleine, with a long descent ahead, Contador, Schleck, and Samuel Sanchez trailed about 2:10 back of a small group of breakaway riders. By the bottom, they trailed by only about 1:40 and continued to gain on the escapees during the 8-mile flat to the finish in a dazzling display of acceleration.
“I think he and I are a little above the others,’’ Schleck said of Contador. “I didn’t put time on Contador, but he couldn’t drop me either.’’
Evans finished 8 minutes, 9 seconds back from Casar, in 42d place. The two-time Tour runner-up broke down after the finish, burying his head in the hug of a BMC Racing teammate and sobbing.
Evans said he felt bad for his teammates and staffers: “Everyone who believed in me in this whole project — you know, everything was going so good — I’m just so sorry to let them all down,’’ he said.
Testa said Evans’s teammates didn’t know about his fracture on Monday and BMC staff didn’t tell them so as not to disrupt “the morale of the team.’’
The peloton faces three higher-level ascents in today’s 10th stage, a 111-mile ride from Chambery to Gap.