Sastre wins 17th and toughest Tour stage
Vail, CO Colorado
ALPE D’HUEZ, France ” Carlos Sastre of Spain won the 17th stage of the Tour de France, taking the overall lead Wednesday from CSC teammate Frank Schleck on the hardest ride up three huge Alpine climbs.
Sastre took the yellow jersey by speeding ahead of the main title contenders in the final ascent of the 130.8-mile ride from Embrun to L’Alpe d’Huez.
“I suffered a lot on the way to the summit, but I take great pleasure in capturing the jersey,” Sastre said through a translator. “A pure climber has to take advantage of his opportunities, and this was mine.”
Sastre, a five-time top-10 finisher at the Tour who also won a mountain stage in 2003, beat most of the other title contenders by more than two minutes. The 33-year-old Spaniard is riding in his eighth Tour, and this is his first yellow jersey.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said.
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The stage was the last of three in the Alps. Riders will face a time trial Saturday that’s likely to determine the winner. Two mostly flat stages in the meantime aren’t likely to influence the leading bunch.
Cadel Evans of Australia remains a favorite to win the Tour, barring a crash or other mishap, because he is the best time-trial cyclist among the contenders.
Overall, Sastre leads Schleck by 1 minute, 24 seconds, and Bernhard Kohl of Germany by 1:33. Evans is fourth, 1:34 behind. Among other strong time-trial riders, Denis Menchov of Russia is fifth, 2:39 behind, and Christian Vande Velde of the United States is sixth, 4:41 back.
Team CSC was dominant up the first two climbs, leading the group around the race leader that split ahead of the main pack. By the base of L’Alpe d’Huez, Schleck had five teammates escorting him.
It was then that Sastre went ahead, and he continued to extend his lead up the famed final climb.
“I had to take the risk of attacking from the beginning” of the Alpe d’Huez, said Sastre, adding that he knew he needed to gain time on Evans and Menchov to have a shot at the title.
Now it is likely to come down to whether Sastre has enough of a lead on Evans to hold him off in the time trial.
“I have two days to enjoy the yellow jersey and on Saturday I’ll think about the time trial,” Sastre said. “I’ll find out then if I am able to win the Tour.”
In the first time trial ” Stage 4 in and around Cholet ” Evans was fourth, 27 seconds behind stage winner Stefan Schumacher of Germany. Sastre was 28th, 1:43 back.
But Saturday’s time trial ” the next to last stage before the three-week race ends on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday ” is nearly twice as long. It takes riders 32.9 miles from Cerilly to Saint-Amand-Montrond.
Evans, who was in a group of other race favorites, said he didn’t stand much chance of catching Sastre on Wednesday ” even if he did lead them up the climb for much of the last few miles.
“When you have the 10 best bike riders in the world behind your wheel and you have a 2-minute gap to close on one of the best climbers in the world, it’s not any situation to be in,” Evans said.
“It will take a good time trial” to win the Tour, Evans added. “I hope that I’ll have the legs on Saturday. We’ll see.”
Thursday’s stage is a 122.1-mile ride through medium mountains from Bourg-d’Oisans to Saint-Etienne.
AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.