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Landis in yellow again; Schleck wins Stage 15

7/19/2006

L'ALPE D'HUEZ, France -- American Floyd Landis reclaimed the Tour de France's overall lead Tuesday, taking back the yellow jersey after an uphill finish on the famed L'Alpe d'Huez.

The 15th stage, won by Luxembourg's Frank Schleck, was the first of three straight days of grueling Alpine treks, which are likely to identify the top contenders to win the first Tour of the
post-Lance Armstrong era.

Landis, the Phonak team leader, finished 1 minute and 10 seconds behind Schleck. He took an overall lead of 10 seconds over Spain's Oscar Pereiro, who had held the yellow jersey and a lead of 1:29 over Landis since the 13th stage.

Frenchman Cyril Dessel, Russia's Denis Menchov, Spaniard Carlos Sastre, German Andreas Kloeden and Australian Cadel Evans are less than three minutes off the pace.

"The plan was to take as much time out of the guys who were
close to me as possible," Landis told reporters.

"I had hoped that Pereiro could hold on to the lead because
his team did a really good job. But I got the yellow jersey
back, so there you go.

"Kloeden was very good, and the time differences are not so
big yet. I wouldn't write any of the others off -- a bad day
could change everything," the 30-year-old added.

"I think with our conservative tactics, the only likely
stage victory is in the time trial. Personally I like it when
there's more climbs. The team didn't do as badly as everybody
has hoped.

Davitamon's Evans admitted his chances of an overall win on July 23 on the Champs-Elysees did not look promising.

"I wasn't good enough. Phonak and T-Mobile set a really
fierce pace, and they just kept going from there," The Australian
said.

"They were all better than me. I just stayed there and
fought."

Landis said he'd taken a "gamble" on Saturday by allowing former Phonak teammate Pereiro to claim the yellow jersey, which brings with it pressure to lead and places an extra burden on a rider's teammates.

Landis, a 30-year-old Pennsylvania native, had temporarily taken the race lead Thursday after the tougher of two days of climbs in the Pyrenees.

The 116-mile stage Tuesday began in Gap and also took riders up the Col d'Izoard and the Col du Lautaret climbs.

World champion Tom Boonen of Belgium dropped out of the race after scaling the Col d'Izoard, which like the L'Alpe d'Huez is so tough that it defies classification in cycling's ranking system. Boonen had been trailing Robbie McEwen of Australia for the green jersey, given to the best sprinter.

Schleck, riding for Team CSC, pulled away from Damian Cunego of
Italy over the last 1.2 miles to win his first Tour stage. Cunego
was 11 seconds behind in second. Stefano Garzelli was third, 1:10
back.

Schleck, who won this year's Amstel Gold Race, called his first
Tour stage victory a "dream come true."

"It makes me even more confident than I was before," Schleck
said. "To win on the Alpe d'Huez is fantastic. ... I think I will
need some more time to realize what has happened to me."

Fans flocked to the final climb, which contains 21 sharp bends,
waving flags as the breakaway riders raced to the finish.

Two years ago, Armstrong pulled away from the field at L'Alpe
d'Huez in a time trial under tense conditions. The Texan was
trailed in a car carrying a police sniper after he'd received death
threats.

The lack of Armstrong's dominant presence has led to a far more
open race this year. He was at L'Alpe d'Huez on Tuesday and scaled
the Alpine peak in a ride with friends on Monday.

The three-week race is wide open this year, after favorites Ivan Basso -- who won the Giro d'Italia in May -- and 1997 Tour champion Jan Ullrich were among nine riders kicked out on the eve of the Tour after being implicated in a Spanish doping investigation.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.