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Schleck still in lead after 16th stage

France’s Cyril Dessel wins 16th stage for first victory of race after leading breakaway.

Frank Schleck reacts on the podium after the 16th stage of the Tour de France cycling race between Cuneo, northern Italy, and Jausiers, French Alps, Tuesday July 22, 2008.

AP PHOTO

JAUSIERS, France — Frank Schleck of Luxembourg kept the yellow jersey in the Tour de France on Tuesday, with riders pushing themselves through the Alps as the race left Italy and returned to France.

French rider Cyril Dessel won the 16th stage for his first stage victory in this race. He led a breakaway group of four to a downhill finish, completing the 98-mile trip from Cuneo, Italy, in 4 hours, 31 minutes, 27 seconds.

Schleck refrained from attacking during the mountain climbs, choosing to stay with his closest rivals. He finished 1 minute, 28 seconds behind Desseland gained ground on two rivals — Russia’s Denis Menchov and Christian Vande Velde, an American contending in a major three-week race for the first time.

A more decisive performance could come Wednesday, when the Tour’s toughest stage ends with the storied serpentine climb to L’Alpe d’Huez.

“We’re going to try to make the other riders lose the Tour de France tomorrow,” Schleck said.

His main title rivals finished in the same time as Schleck. Bernhard Kohl of Austria remains second overall, seven seconds behind, and pre-race favorite Cadel Evans of Australia is third, eight seconds back. Carlos Sastre, a CSC teammate of Schleck, is fourth, 49 seconds behind.

Evans may have been the biggest winner Tuesday. The Australian would be content to stay eight seconds behind Schleck through the mountains, then blow his rival away in the final time trial Saturday. The race ends Sunday in Paris.

“I’m very happy because it would have been too tough to do tomorrow’s stage with the yellow jersey,” said Roberto Damiani, sporting director for Evans’ Silence-Lotto team. “Evans is only eight seconds behind, but the pressure is still on CSC right now.”

Menchov and Vande Velde had trouble on the concluding descent. Menchov simply couldn’t keep up with the other race leaders, while Vande Velde fell.

“Nothing special happened,” Menchov said. “I just lost the wheel. The upper sections of the downhill were very technical and difficult. ... I didn’t panic and I didn’t get scared, I just wanted to get down the mountain as safely and as fast as possible.”

Menchov lost 35 seconds and dropped from fourth to fifth overall, 1:13 behind. The damage for Vande Velde was far greater, with the Chicagoan losing 2:36 and dropping from fifth to sixth in the standings.

“I just hit a tight corner and fell,” said Vande Velde, who had already lost 35 seconds to the other leaders on the final climb up the Bonette-Restefond pass, a 16-mile uphill stretch.

Menchov and Vande Velde were not the only riders who had trouble going downhill.

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