Schleck wins stage; Lance back in pack

Updated: June 14, 2010, 4:49 PM ET
Associated Press

SCHWARZENBURG, Switzerland -- Frank Schleck of Luxembourg led a late breakaway Monday to win the third stage of the Tour of Switzerland, while Lance Armstrong gained ground in the standings.

Germany's Tony Martin of Team HTC-Columbia took the overall race lead from Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara in the 122.4-mile trek from Sierre to Schwarzenburg featuring a climb up the Mosses Pass.

Schleck, a Saxo Bank teammate of Cancellara who's known as a strong climber, triumphed by breaking away in the last 200 yards of a climb and then held on over the final 1,100 yards to the finish.

He beat his arms in the air after withstanding a late surge by Colombia's Rigoberto Uran, who was second. Both clocked 5 hours, 2 minutes, 21 seconds.

"That felt like the longest kilometer of my life," said Schleck, who has come to the Swiss race in a mood of "serenity" in the run-up to the Tour de France.

"It makes me happy to win a stage here," he said.

Dutch rider Bauke Mollema was third, three seconds back, as was Martin -- who began the stage one second behind Cancellara. The Swiss rider and Armstrong finished seven seconds back of Schleck.

Overall, Martin leads Cancellara by one second, and Sweden's Thomas Lovkvist is third, nine seconds back. Armstrong rose to 21st, from 33rd, and is 30 seconds behind the German.

The race is Armstrong's last before he embarks on his bid for an eighth Tour de France victory when the sport's main event starts July 3.

Asked if he thought Armstrong could win the Tour de France, Schleck replied: "Yes, I do. ... You ask me about anybody else and I would say no."

"But you're talking about Lance."

Armstrong did not take questions after the stage, but tweeted congratulations to Schleck and his "impressive ride."

Armstrong's longtime coach, Team RadioShack manager Johan Bruyneel, said some rivals are "quite a lot better" than his riders -- and the team focus will on finishing the Swiss race well.

"We don't want to stress too much," he said, referring to Armstrong. "We can only say at the end of the Tour of Switzerland how his condition is ... but I think it's in a good spot right now."

Three riders -- Jussi Veikkanen of Finland, Alexandre Pliuschin of Moldova and Ermanno Capelli of Italy -- broke out of the pack at 13.7 miles and chiseled out a 15-minute lead before they were all overtaken with just less than 14 miles to go.

Racers will face two midlevel climbs in Tuesday's fourth stage, a 119.3-mile ride across the rolling hills of northern Switzerland from Schwarzenburg to Wettingen.

The race's toughest day, featuring three big climbs, looms in Stage 6 Thursday. Sunday's finale is a time trial.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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