(Photos: Yuzuru Sunada)
Cadel Evans maintained his chances of becoming Australia's first ever Tour de France champion thanks to another epic day of racing on the final mountain stage Friday.
Former two-time runner-up Evans found himself in trouble at the start of the 109.5 km 19th stage from Modane to Alpe d'Huez when reigning champion Alberto Contador went on the attack in a bid to close his deficit.
At the the end of a thrilling climb over the Alpe's 21 hairpin bends, however, Evans finished 56sec behind stage winner Pierre Rolland of France to sit third overall behind new leader Andy Schleck.
Leopard-Trek leader Schleck, who has finished runner-up to Contador the past two years, took possession of the yellow jersey from Frenchman Thomas Voeckler and now leads older brother Frank Schleck by 53sec. Evans is third at 57 ahead of the 20th and penultimate stage, a 42.5 km time trial in Grenoble on Saturday.
The Australian, who finished runner-up in 2007 and 2008, is considered a stronger time trialist than both the Schleck brothers.
He finished sixth in the race against the clock when the exact same course was used in the Criterium du Dauphine stage race last month.
Evans, however, was tight-lipped about his victory chances. "I don't know if I'll win the Tour, we'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out," said the Australian.
Contador had conceded defeat on Thursday when he lost 3:50 to Andy Schleck on another epic day of climbing on stage 18. Despite closing his gap slightly thanks to his third place finish on the Alpe behind Rolland and fellow Spaniard Samuel Sanchez, he is now 3:55 behind