Tour de France: Andy Schleck claims yellow jersey as Frenchman Pierre Rolland win latest stage

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The Independent Online

An epic final Alpine stage of the 2011 Tour de France saw Andy Schleck take the race leader's yellow jersey as defending champion Alberto Contador's hopes of a fourth title came to an end.

Contador, racing for Saxo Bank-SunGard, failed to gain enough time on Andy and Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek) during today's 109.5-kilometre 19th stage from Modane Valfrejus to Alpe-d'Huez to make victory after tomorrow's time-trial in Grenoble an unrealistic ambition for the Spaniard.

The two brothers from Luxembourg now top the general classification with Australian Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) in third place and tipped to take the yellow jersey before Sunday's ride into Paris.

And Contador was beaten to victory in today's stage by Pierre Rolland (Europcar) with Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) second, 14 seconds behind, with Contador another nine seconds further adrift.

The two Schlecks were in a group 57secs behind along with Evans as France's Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) relinquished his 10-day hold on the maillot jaune.

Contador began the day four minutes 44 seconds behind Voeckler and 4mins 29secs adrift of Andy Schleck.

Andy Schleck now holds a 53-second lead over his brother Frank Schleck in the overall rankings, with Australian Evans lurking 57 seconds behind, the trio all leapfrogging Voeckler, who finished 3:22 behind today in 20th and now sits fourth overall, 2:10 adrift.

Evans is the superior time-trial rider and was content merely to mark the Schleck brothers throughout the day.

Tomorrow's penultimate day 42.5km against the clock in Grenoble will now likely decide the winner of the maillot jaune, with Sunday's final stage to Paris traditionally one for the sprinters.

It is unlikely to be Contador after a valiant but ultimately doomed bid today.

The Spaniard's participation in the race is highly-controversial as he is next month the subject of a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing into his positive drugs test at last year's Tour.

He protests his innocence, attributing the adverse finding to contaminated meat. Three-time champion Contador attacked 16km into the stage as he sought to reduce his arrears.

Andy Schleck - runner-up to the Spaniard in each of the past two years - marked the move, but he was the only member of the top 10 able to stay with Contador.

The long descent from the Col du Galibier, the day's second climb, allowed the main protagonists to converge before beginning the fabled 21 hairpin bend-finishing ascent to Alpe-d'Huez.

Contador again made a move on the lower slopes to power clear, but Rolland triumphed after timing his counter attack perfectly.

Andy Schleck wore the yellow jersey for six days in 2010 before losing the Tour title to Contador by 39 seconds.

The 26-year-old from Luxembourg marked Contador in the early part of the day before allowing the Spaniard to burst clear on the final climb.

Contador was the long-time leader and even had to swat away a spectator in full surgical dress before he was overtaken by Rolland and Sanchez.

He is now 3:55 behind Andy Schleck, with Evans the real danger to the Luxembourg rider.

Points classification leader Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) rolled in as part of a large group, 25:26 behind.

The time limit was set at 25:09 and it could be that Cavendish and the rest of the grupetto are docked 20 points as they were yesterday.

The good news for Cavendish, though, is that his nearest rival Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) was also in the grupetto and if a points penalty is implemented by race organisers the Manxman will retain his 15-point lead.