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Schleck takes Tour lead in Alps

Rider from Luxembourg says wearing yellow jersey ‘childhood dream’

Oscar Pereiro of Spain grimaces in pain prior to being carried into an ambulance after he crashed in the descent of Agnel Pass during the 15th stage of the Tour de France on Sunday.

Oscar Pereiro of Spain grimaces in pain prior to being carried into an ambulance after he crashed in the descent of Agnel Pass during the 15th stage of the Tour de France on Sunday.

PRATO NEVOSO, Italy – Frank Schleck of Luxembourg likes the look of his yellow jersey.

He became the leader of the Tour de France on Sunday. Whether that lasts remains to be seen. The race is now in the Alps, where countless riders have been broken.

“Don’t kick me while I’m happy,” Schleck said.

His jump to the front of cycling’s showpiece event came on a day when Simon Gerrans of Australia won the 15th stage. Gerrans was not chased by the leading contenders. It was the first time he won a stage in four Tour appearances, a victory he called a “beautiful thing.”

Schleck, who came into the stage one second behind Cadel Evans, sped ahead at the finish to wrest the yellow jersey from the Australian. Schleck leads Bernhard Kohl of Austria by seven seconds. Evans slipped to third, eight seconds back.

“For me to take the yellow jersey, it’s a childhood dream,” Schleck said.

Schleck credited CSC teammate and younger brother Andy for surging ahead twice during the final climb in a bid to force Evans to work hard. “Thanks, bro,” Frank Schleck said.

Schleck has had success before in the Alps, winning a Tour stage in 2006 up the famed Alpe d’Huez, which riders will face Wednesday. He now wants to build his lead in the mountains. He knows Evans most likely will be stronger in the time trial during the next-to-last stage before the July 27 finish in Paris.

“If I can, I will attack,” Frank Schleck said. “I have to take some time out of these guys if I want to win the Tour.”

Trying to move beyond a string of doping scandals, the Tour has gotten tighter as it heads into the third and final week. Five riders are within 49 seconds of the leader – up from three before Stage 15 started. Six riders have worn the yellow jersey.

Some riders sensed Evans wasn’t at his best Sunday.

“On a hilltop finish like this you don’t need to have magic, you just got to have a strong team on the front,” CSC rider Jens Voigt said.

Hendrik Redant, sporting manager of Evans’ Silence Lotto team, played down the Australian’s loss of the yellow jersey.

“I don’t think Cadel was struggling too much,” Redant said. “All the favorites are bunched together. It’s good for him and it’s good for the Tour.”

The race lost two notable riders – Spain’s Oscar Pereiro and Britain’s Mark Cavendish.

Pereiro, the 2006 winner, broke his left shoulder when he crashed over a guard rail during a sharp turn. He was injured about 49 miles into the stage and was taken to a hospital in Cuneo. Pereiro won the Tour two years ago after Floyd Landis was stripped of his title for doping.

Cavendish, a sprinter, pulled out before a day of mountain racing.

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