Landis Back in the Lead as Schleck Wins Stage 15

L'ALPE D'HUEZ, France – Frank Schleck (CSC) of Luxembourg claimed the most important win of his career and American Floyd Landis (Phonak) of reclaimed the lead during Tuesday's 25th anniversary stage finish to the most famous mountaintop of the Tour de France.

L'Alpe d'Huez, Tour de France 2006

The peloton works its way up one of the 21 hairpin turns of Stage 15.

Joining such L'Alpe d'Huez winners as Fausto Coppi, Bernard Hinault, and Lance Armstrong, Schleck attacked Italy's Damiano Cunego (Lampre), the 2004 Tour of Italy winner, with about a mile left to claim the 116-mile (187-kilometer) stage from Gap by 111 seconds in four hours, 55 minutes, and 22 seconds. Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas), also of Italy, was third, trailing by 1:10.

Twenty-six-year-old Schleck, the reigning Amstel Gold Race titlist, broke his nose in training nine days prior to the Tour. Nonetheless, he made his Tour debut and joined Jens Voigt as CSC stage winners in this year's Tour.

Landis, a pre-race favorite, rode smoothly and was content to finish fourth, also 1:10 behind. Although he's yet to win a stage, Landis's strategic third- and fourth-place finishes in the race's two mountain stages to date have given him the race lead twice.

Landis, who placed ninth overall in last year's Tour, began the day trailing former race leader Oscar Pereiro (Caisse Espargne) of Spain by 1:29. But he now leads Pereiro, who placed 14th in the stage (2:49 behind) by ten seconds, with fives stages left in the race's 93rd edition.

Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) of Santa Rosa, California, finished tenth in the stage and improved from 15th to ninth overall, trailing Landis by 6:18.

Leipheimer, sixth in the 2005 Tour and the leading returning rider from last year, rode with Landis and others as they closely chased the leaders during the final few miles up the famous finishing climb with its huge crowds and 21 hairpin turns.

But Leipheimer couldn't keep pace.

The demanding stage, which also included the beyond-category climb to Col d'Izoard after about 50 miles, took its toll.

Four riders, including former race leader Tom Boonen (Quick-Step) of Belgium, abandoned during the stage. Oscar Freire (Rabobank), the former world titlist and another early stage winner in this year's race, finished last in the stage, 36:22 behind.

The remaining field of 152 will encounter the Bourg d'Oisans to La Toussuire Stage 16 on Wednesday. The 113-mile (182-kilometer) stage includes two additional beyond-category climbs.

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Lead Photo: Beth Schneider
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