Andy Schleck
Leopard Trek team rider Andy Schleck of Luxembourg celebrates after winning the 18th stage of the Tour de France 2011 cycling race from Pinerolo to Le Galibier-Serre Chevalier July 21, 2011. Reuters

Leopard-Trek leader Andy Schleck earned back the respect of many who criticized his ride in the Pyrenees, by launching an early attack and making a potentially historic ride up to Galibier.

With about 60 km to go, on the Hors category Col d'Izoard, Schleck surprised the peloton by making a solo attack when the final Hors category climb to Galibier still remained.

The peloton did not react, at first, with other contenders such as Cadel Evans, Thomas Voeckler, and Alberto Contador content to sit in the peloton, figuring to chase by Schleck on the final climb.

Team Leopard-Trek, in a tactical move, had already sent up Joost Posthuma and Maxime Monfort, who helped Schleck until the lower slopes of the climb to Galibier.

After Monfort dropped off, it was only Schleck, who had nearly a four minute lead on the peloton at that point.

The peloton then began its chase primarily led by Evan's BMC team.

After the peloton began to dwindle, it became clear that only Evans himself had the strength to chase down Schleck, since he had the most to gain.

Second by second, Evan's pace began reducing Schleck's gap closer towards three minutes as they climbed the high, steep slopes to Galibier.

Soon, Evan's elite chase group contained only contained a handful of riders including yellow jersey holder Thomas Voeckler, Frank Schleck, Ivan Basso, Damiano Cunego, and Alberto Contador.

Suddenly, Contador faltered and was gapped by the group and Evans kept pushing forth.

With 1 km to go, Andy Schleck drove with every ounce of energy remaining up the final sleep slopes. He knew he had the stage victory, it was only a matter of how large the gap was.

Crossing the line at the top of Galibier, Schleck double fist pumped, savoring his victory.

The second counted down, while Evans, Frank Schleck, and Voeckler fought towards the finish. Since he had conserved his energy up the climb, Frank Schleck attacked with 100m to go taking second place. Cadel Evans followed immediately.

But right behind him was Voeckler, the Frenchman straining and gritting his teeth to keep the yellow jersey. Voeckler finished 2:21 behind Andy Schleck and kept his yellow jersey for another day in an inspiring performance.

The big winner of the day was Andy Schleck whose solo attack from 60 km to go may go down as one of the historic rides in Tour de France history, if Schleck can go on to win the Tour de France.

Schleck now sits only 15 seconds behind Voeckler, which he may get easily tomorrow on the mountain top finish to the Alpe d'Huez. Then, he will need to hold his 1:12 lead over Evans in the Stage 20 time trial.

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