Alberto Contador today seized the Tour de France lead after taking advantage of yellow jersey incumbent Andy Schleck’s mechanical problem on stage 15.
Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), resplendent in the French national champion’s jersey, won the 187.5-kilometre stage from Pamiers to Bagneres-de-Luchon, but in a highly-eventful Tour there was yet another twist.
Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) lost around 40 seconds when his chain slipped as he attempted to attack on the 19.3km Port de Bales hors categorie (beyond category) climb and he finished 39 seconds behind Contador to fall back into second place overall.
Contador (Astana) capitalised on his rival’s problem and went ahead – normally with a mechanical problem in cycling a rival would not take advantage.
The Spaniard, seeking a third title in four years, led by 27 seconds at the summit of the day’s final climb and extended his advantage on the descent.
Contador now possesses an eight-second lead over Schleck with five days of racing remaining.
Contador began the day 31 seconds behind Schleck after the duo played cat and mouse on yesterday's opening stage in the Pyrenees.
But today was different.
The day featured a category four climb and two more difficult category two climbs, but it was always going to be the fourth and final climb where any attack would happen.
Voeckler reached the summit of the 19.3km Port de Bales first, having been in the day’s 10-man escape group.
But the events behind him were to impact on the race to Paris.
Schleck attacked, but was matched by his rivals – including Contador.
The Luxembourg rider continued to forge forward, attacking again only to be undone by his chain slipping with 3km still to climb.
Contador went ahead, reaching the top of the climb 27 seconds ahead of the yellow jersey.
The summit came 21.5km before a steep descent to the finish and Schleck was one second further behind Contador with 10km remaining.
But the Spaniard extended his advantage in the closing kilometres and finished two minutes 50 seconds behind Voeckler – but crucially 39 seconds ahead of Schleck.
Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing) was second to Schleck, finishing 1min 20secs behind alongside Aitor Perez Arrieta (Footon Servetto).
Contador was one of seven riders to finish in the third group, while Schleck finished 3:29 behind Voeckler today.