An untimely dropped chain cost Andy Schleck the yellow jersey at the Tour de France on Monday, as the Luxembourger gave up the race lead to Alberto Contador.
On the final climb, the hors categorie Port de Balès, Schleck and his Saxo Bank team had whittled the lead group down to just the five GC leaders, when, just 3km from the summit, Schleck suffered his mechanical. Contador, Samuel Sanchez and Denis Menchov sped off. Sanchez led the dare-devil 21km descent and the three finished with enough gap for the defending champ to take the lead by about 8 seconds.
Up front, French national champion Thomas Voeckler (BBox Bouygues Telecom) scored a fifth stage win for this country in this edition of the Tour, surviving out of a long breakaway.
Afterwards Schleck hit out immediately at Contador for not showing “fair play.”
“In the same situation I would not have taken advantage,” said Schleck, who had held the yellow jersey since taking it from Australia’s Cadel Evans on
“I’m not the jury, but for sure those guys wouldn’t get the fair play award from me today.”
Schleck had to hold his anger back as he swapped the yellow jersey for the white jersey for the race’s best-placed rider aged 25 or under.
And he has promised to take his revenge on Contador swiftly.
“I’m really disappointed. My stomach is full of anger, and I want to take my revenge,” he said.
“I will take my revenge in the coming days.”
Contador said the 30-seconds he picked up will not determine the overall winner of this Tour.
“I don’t believe you can win the Tour with this. I know it’s delicate situation, I know there are complicated parts, but at the moment I attacked I didn’t know what happened, I knew after, I was already in the lead. At the stage in Spa, I told teammates they had to stop, all the riders would do the same. On the cobblestones, no one stopped at the crash there. Anyway, 30 seconds won’t change the race, if you win or not,” he said.
“I understand he’s disappointed but what’s important to me is that I took time off him. My goal is still to win the yellow jersey in Paris,” said Contador.
“Today Andy finally took his responsibilities (and attacked). But in any case I was ready to attack myself.”
Big climbs, big descents.
The stage featured four tough climbs, the toughest of which, the HC Port de Bales, summitted 21.5km from the finish. Success would require climbing and descending skills.
The day started quickly in sunny and warm conditions. The first half of the stage was dominated by the battles for sprinter and KOM points and the peloton covered 47.5 km in the opening hour. Early on, the aggression created a split in the field that put Contador and his Astana mates 10 seconds up on the group containing Schleck. But Saxo Bank quickly brought the groups back together.
It wasn’t until more than 50km into the stage that a real breakaway formed, when BBox Bouygues Telecom’s Nicholas Vogondy took a solo flyer and was joined by a mob of 31 others, who hammered out a 10-second gap but were absorbed in less than 10k.
- Johan Van Summeren (Garmin – Transitions), 31st at 29:27
- Thomas Voeckler (BBox Bouygues Telecom), 69th at 1:17:59
- Alessandro Ballan,(BMC Racing Team), 95th, at 1:45:34
- Aitor Perez Arrieta (Footon-Servetto), 97th at 1:48:08
- Luke Roberts (Team Milram), 117th, at 2:05:15
- Sébastien Turgot (BBox Bouygues Telecom),131st at 2:11:31
- Lloyd Mondory (Ag2r La Mondiale), 134th at 2:12:39
- Serguei Ivanov (Katusha Team), 141st at 2:18:10
- Brian Vandborg (Liquigas-Doimo), 147th at 2:21:04
- Francesco Reda (Quick Step), 168th at 2:44:30
The next group had more staying power. At the 90km mark, Luke Roberts (Milram) and Brian Vandborg (Liquigas) cranked off the front and were soon joined by eight others. The group labored out to a 1:30 gap at 95km into the stage and had four minutes at the base of the Col de Portet-d’Aspet and nearly 8 minutes at the summit, as the peloton took its sweet time on the day’s second categorized climb.
The Port de Balès
The break carried a nearly 10-minute gap into the final climb, while Saxo Bank’s Stuart O’Grady powered the front of the pack. In the opening kilometers of the climb, Schleck enjoyed the company of six teammates at the front, while Contador happily sat in behind the race leader.
The day’s climbs
- The Côte de Carla-Bayle, Cat. 4, 3.1 km, averages 4.1 percent. Summits summits at 30km.
- The Col de Portet-d’Aspet, Cat. 2, 5.8km, averages 6.8 percent. Summits at 105km.
- The Col des Ares, Cat. 2, 6.1km, averages 4.7 percent. Summits at 126.5km.
- The Port de Balès, HC, 19.3km, averages 6.1 percent. Summitts at 166km.
Up front, the 10-man break was soon half its previous size. The survivors were van Summeren, Ivanov, Ballan, Arrieta and Voeckler, with Vanborg yo-yoing. With 8km of climbing left, Voeckler attacked. Ballan and van Summeren chased, but Voeckler began pulling away. Meanwhile the dwindling yellow jersey group had trimmed Voeckler’s gap to 6 minutes halfway up the climb.
Saxo burns matches, then Schleck accelerates
After O’Grady pulled off, Saxo’s Jens Voigt hammered for several kilometers, then pulled off for his teammate Chris Anker Sorensen to take a pull.
Less than 4km from the summit, Sorensen gave up the ghost and the race leader took the front. And the group was briefly trimmed down to just the five top men on the GC: Schleck, Contador, Samuel Sanches, Denis Menchov and Jurgen Van Den Broeck.
Armstrong, Leipheimer and Hesjedal fought their way back to the group in between Schleck’s attacks.
Disaster for Schleck
Schleck launched yet another attack when he dropped his chain, delaying him almost 20 seconds while he frantically tried to get moving again. Contador, Sanchez and Menchov rolled past as Schleck lost ground.
Once he got going, Schleck had to fight his way past Leipheimer, Vinokourov and Gesink to get back within sight of the Contador group.
The yellow jersey came over the summit 13 seconds behind Contador and started in on one of the toughest descents of the Tour.
Sanchez pulled out all the stops, descending like a mad man with Menchov and Contador in his wake. Although Schleck was aggressive, he fell 25, and then 30 seconds behind on the descent. He was joined by Van den Broeck, who took some hard pulls, and Vinokourov, who did not.
Way up front, Voeckler was riding with similar abandon, almost overshooting two corners.
Voeckler had plenty of time to celebrate his win. His breakaway mate Perez outsprinted Ballan for second. Then Roberts and Reda led in the Contador group at 2:50 behind Voeckler.
And then the count began.
Schleck chased hard but came in 39 seconds behind Contador, to give up his jersey by 8 seconds.
Voeckler almost quit
The 31-year-old Voeckler is perhaps best known for the 10 days he spent in the yellow jersey in 2004.
But he showed style and determination after attacking his breakaway group late in the climb to Bales to go on and claim his third career Tour de Framce stage win.
“I worked hard for this stage win,” said Voeckler, who admitted he almost abandoned the race last week.
“It has been a really difficult race for me and, if there had been crosswinds on (the stage during) July 14 instead of a headwind, I would almost certainly have pulled out.
“In the past three days I’ve been feeling much better.”
At nearly 200km, stage 16 promises to be one of the toughest of this year’s Tour. It crosses all four of the most famous passes in the Pyrénées — the Cat. 1 Peyresourde and Aspin, and the hors category Tourmalet and Aubisque — and includes 15,000 feet of actual climbing.
Adding to the historical importance of the stage is this being the 100th anniversary of the Tour first crossing these four peaks. The last time a Tour stage ran from Luchon to Pau, in 1964, Federico Bahamontes went solo over the Aubisque and came into Pau with a two-minute lead over a 13-man chase group.
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