Sastre keeps yellow jersey at Tour de France |

Sastre keeps yellow jersey at Tour de France

Jamey Keaten
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

MONTLUCON, France ” Carlos Sastre kept the Tour de France yellow jersey Friday, a day before a time trial that most likely will determine the winner of the three-week race in what the Spaniard calls the “opportunity of my life.”

Sylvain Chavanel of France won the 19th stage after leading a two-man breakaway for his first stage victory. The Cofidis rider edged out Jeremy Roy of France at the end of the mostly flat 103-mile ride from Roanne to Montlucon.

The main title contenders finished in the main pack 1 minute, 13 seconds behind, and the top of the standings remained unchanged before Saturday’s time trial. The Tour ends Sunday in Paris.

“Today was a day to recover. Tomorrow will be the opportunity of my life,” Sastre said. “I’m calm, but I especially want to fight to defend my yellow jersey. I’m going to go all out.”

The Team CSC leader has a 1:24 lead over Frank Schleck of Luxembourg, with Bernhard Kohl of Austria third, 1:33 back. Cadel Evans of Australia is fourth, 1:34 behind, and considered the best time-trial rider among the top four.

The time trial is a largely flat 33-mile ride from Cerilly to Saint-Amand-Montrond. Riders will set off one-by-one down a starter’s ramp in a race against the clock.

They will ride in reverse order of the standings, meaning Sastre goes last. That will give him an advantage of seeing how riders fare and how he might need to adjust.

Sastre has finished in the top 10 five times at the Tour. He said Saturday’s layout isn’t all that different from past time trials, and he expects the usual “pain in my legs.”

“The big difference is that I’ll have the yellow jersey on my shoulders, and that will give me greater strength and more confidence,” Sastre said.

The one big variable is the weather: The forecast is for cloudy skies throughout the day and possibly for stormy, windy conditions when the top riders set off.

“It’s not really a very technical course, but there’s always a little bit of danger (in rainy time trials),” Evans said. “The last time I rode in a rainy time trial, I did pretty well.”

The top contenders were happy to let the French breakaway riders go in Friday’s stage: Chavanel trails Sastre by more than 1 hour, 50 minutes, while Roy is more than 3 hours behind.

Chavanel broke down in tears the finish-line zone.

“My first thought when I crossed the line was for my best friend who committed suicide last year,” he said. “He would have been happy for me. … There’s a lot of emotion today. I’m the happiest ever.”

Damiano Cunego of Italy didn’t start Friday’s ride. The Lampre team leader, once considered a possible contender for the podium, crashed Thursday and badly injured his chin.

Christophe Brandt, a Belgian rider on Evans’ Silence Lotto team, dropped out of the race because of pulmonary problems, the Tour’s medical team said.

Three cyclists ” Juan Antonio Flecha of Spain, Romain Feillu of France and Fabian Wegmann of Germany ” didn’t finish in the minimum time after the stage winner and were excluded for the rest of the race.

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