Rolland storms L'Alpe-d'Huez
Andy Schleck moves into yellow jersey
Last Updated: 22/07/11 6:15pm
Rolland: Rode a clever race and timed his attack to take victory on the famous climb
Pierre Rolland sent the French crowd into raptures by winning stage 19 of the Tour de France on L’Alpe-d’Huez after holding off the race's overall contenders.
The Europcar rider attacked on the final mountain climb of the Tour to hand the French their first stage victory of the race, as well as riding his way into the white young rider’s jersey.
Rolland held off the attentions of Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) at the line, winning by 14 seconds to confirm his place as the next top prospect in French cycling.
The battle for the yellow jersey was raging behind with Peter Velits (HTC-Highroad) leading home an elite group of six containing the overall contenders, with the exception of race-leader Thomas Voeckler (Europcar).
The stage saw Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) move into yellow with two stages remaining, finishing on the same time as brother and team-mate Frank who moved into second place overall, 53 seconds down.
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) worked hard throughout the day and sits third on the general classification, 57 seconds back to set up a tantalising penultimate stage time trial in Grenoble.
Contador made up time on his rivals to move up to sixth overall but was left to rue his time loss during the first week and on the Col du Galibier on Thursday.
Voeckler arrived at the line 3:22 down on the stage winner, his lengthy tenure in the leader’s jersey finally brought to an end after surviving the Pyrenees and up until the final climb of the Alps.
After the climb new leader Andy Schleck admitted he was happy to have claimed yellow, saying: "To be honest I didn’t feel in the best shape on the last climb but just had to keep my eye on Cadel Evans. On the first climb I went with Alberto Contador but I lost a bit of energy from that battle.
"I couldn’t follow him on Alpe d’Huez so I focussed on Cadel Evans and I’ve got the yellow jersey now so no regrets at all.
"They’ve all been difficult stages and today was no exception but I’m in yellow and that’s what matters. Tomorrow will be the final showdown. My condition is there, my legs feel good so I’m going to go all in."
After the stage there was a tense wait for green jersey holder Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) and the gruppetto with a 25:09 time cut to aim for.
The Manxman led a large group around the final corner but ultimately finished outside the cut by a tantalising 17 seconds.
Yet with main rival Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) in attendance both riders were docked 20 points, meaning the Manxman maintained a 15-point lead in the classification ahead of the final sprint stage on the Champs-Elysees.
The fight for green was the final act in what had been a stunning day of action, culminating with a finish featuring incredible crowds as the riders made their way up the 23 hairpin turns of the most famous of Alpine climbs.
A relatively short stage at 109.5km always looked likely to be a punishing one but no one was prepared for an opening stanza which saw the race blown wide open.
There were warning signs of an attack as Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard) moved up the road on the run-up to the first climb of the day.
Moments later team-mate Alberto Contador lit the blue touch paper by immediately attacking the field on the early ramps of the Col du Telegraphe with 92km to go.
Immediately the favourites were forced to react with the Schleck’s quickly into the wheel of the Spaniard while Evans and Voeckler were forced to put in a big effort to bridge across.
In scenes that mirrored the final kilometres of a race, Contador kicked again in a move that distanced Frank Schleck, with only Evans, Voeckler and Andy Schleck remaining.
Another punishing attack saw Evans and Voeckler finally distanced, Evans stopping completely with a bike problem on the steep ramps of the climb which required a change of machinery.
Voeckler was left to go it alone in no-man’s-land and eventually slid back into a vastly-depleted peloton mid-way up the Col du Galibier.
Three groups on the road came back together in a surprising turn of events at the foot of the final climb with 25km remaining.
Not content with one large attack during the stage, Contador kicked again with 12.5km, distancing his rivals as large crowds closed in on the roads.
Separate attacks from Rolland and Sanchez paid dividends, the Spaniard narrowly missing out on the stage win but moved into a now unassailable lead in the polka dot jersey standings.
A thrilled Rolland, beyond being whisked to the podium, said: "It was beautiful – I was given the chance to go for the victory today and it was perfect. I’ve been preparing for this Alpe d’Huez stage for the last six months in my mind.
"I was facing two Spanish riders at the end and I needed all the strategy I could have. I said to myself I’m not going to be second – I’m going to wait for my moment to attack and try and win this.
"When the line came into sight and I knew I was going to win, I couldn’t believe it. But I knew from the bottom of the climb that I had the potential and the condition to make the attack stick.
"I’ve seen this legendary stage from a young age it has meant so much to me. I can’t believe I’ve added my name to the list of winners."