ALPE D'HUEZ, France - Luxembourg's Andy Schleck captured the Tour de France yellow jersey on the famed Alpe d'Huez on Friday, lining up a pulsating finish to the 2011 race with this weekend's time trial and final dash to the Champs Elysees in Paris.
Frenchman Pierre Rolland won the 19th stage, battling up the mountain's 21 brutally steep bends to finish 14 seconds ahead of Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez and 23 seconds clear of a more dangerous Spanish rival, three-time Tour champion Alberto Contador.
Schleck, who famously lost the 2010 Tour by a mere 39 seconds to Contador, now has a 53-second lead over his brother Frank in second place, while Australia's Cadel Evans is third, 57 seconds behind.
Schleck took the yellow jersey from Frenchman Thomas Voeckler, who cracked on the day's first climb and never managed to catch the leaders despite a gritty struggle up the Alpe d'Huez.
The Luxembourg rider made good on the promise he made Thursday to capture the jersey, after he missed taking the lead on top of the Galibier pass by only 15 seconds after launching a daring solo attack.
Now he has Sunday's finish line firmly in his sights.
"My motivation is super, my legs are good, my condition is there, so I'm confident I can keep this till Paris," Schleck said.
He rode much of the day in a small group alongside Contador, but chose not to follow the Spanish rider when he attacked at the bottom of the 13.8 kilometer (8.5 mile) Alpe d'Huez.
"I had no interest in chasing Contador or Sanchez," Schleck said, as neither rider was in contention for the yellow jersey."Today I had bigger goals than to win the stage."
Schleck said he has not previewed Saturday's stage, a 42.5 kilometer (26.4 mile) individual time trial in Grenoble. But he dismissed concerns that he isn't a good enough time trialist to hold of Evans.
"Everybody tells me it's a time trial that suits me good, so I believe everybody and hope to show a good performance tomorrow," Schleck said.
Rolland crossed the line after attacking near the end of the day's route, packed with thousands of wildly cheering cycling fans.
Rolland, a 24-year-old rider from team Europcar, attacked as the demanding 109.5 km (68 mile) race over three difficult climbs drew to a tense finish, finally dropping Contador and Sanchez toward the top of the 6,100 foot final climb.
Rolland, who is riding in his third Tour, clenched his fists and grinned widely as he crossed the line 14 seconds ahead of Sanchez and 23 seconds ahead of Contador.
"I grew up watching Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani, watching how they climb the Alpe d'Huez," Rolland said. "Now I've won the Alpe d'Huez, it's going to take a minute to sink in."
Andy Schleck rode in 57 seconds behind Rolland in a group of six riders that included his brother and Evans.
Voeckler rode in 3 minutes and 21 seconds behind Rolland, losing the yellow jersey he had worn for 10 days. Voeckler dropped to fourth place overall, 2 minutes and 10 seconds behind.