Frank Schleck today took his second ever Tour de France stage win in the Queen stage of the race from Bourg Saint Maurice to Le Grand Bournand in dramatic fashion.
With five categorised climbs on the agenda, it was inevitable that there would be attacks, but it was rather less predictable that the stage would shake up the general classification so spectacularly.
It was Frank Schleck who struck first on the penultimate ascent of the day, the Col de Romme, after an unsuccessful move from Carlos Sastre had been brought back.
None other than Lance Armstrong chased Schleck down, but in a superbly-timed counter-attack, Schleck’s brother, Andy, went with Alberto Contador, Andreas Kloden and, soon after, Frank Schleck hanging onto the coat-tails of the Luxembourgeois.
The group of four quickly gained time over Armstrong and Bradley Wiggins, who neutralised each other; Wiggins did not want to bring Armstrong back into the race and Armstrong was in the same predicament.
With Contador’s team-mate Kloden still well-placed overall, the Spaniard attacked with a short burst on the Col de la Colombière. The German was distanced, although the Schlecks remained in contact, illustrating the almost total lack of unity within the Astana team.
Indeed, when Contador punctured earlier in the stage, he had just one team-mate to help him back into the lead-group, almost unthinkable for the maillot jaune.
Meanwhile, further down the mountain, Armstrong sprinted away from Wiggins and quickly distanced the Briton, demonstrating how serious a threat the Garmin rider has become to the Astana team’s stranglehold over the general classification.
Commanding a lead of over two minutes over Kloden, Armstrong and Wiggins, the leading trio of the Schleck brothers and Contador appeared to make an agreement amongst themselves; one of the brothers to take the stage, whilst Contador was content just to gain time, refusing to pull on the front.
With Andy Schleck moving into second position overall and already bearing the white young riders’ jersey, it was decided that Frank would take the stage, his second after winning on Alpe d’Huez in 2006.
The Schleck brothers gained enough time to move them into second and third overall, whilst Armstrong and Wiggins dropped to fourth and sixth respectively.
For Wiggins and Armstrong, both strong time triallists, their podium chances were not completely ruined today, but with a further two days in the mountains before the race reaches Paris, the Schlecks look increasingly likely to fill the podium behind Contador.
Hushovd moving towards green
Whilst Contador was strengthening his lead overall, Thor Hushovd did the same in the green jersey competition.
In a highly unusual move for a contender for the green jersey, the Norwegian escaped early on with a group of 20 stage hopefuls.
Deciding that the pace was not quite fast enough, Hushovd attacked to ride alone, collecting both intermediate sprints on offer today and now has a lead of 30 points over his nearest adversary, Mark Cavendish.
Stage 17: Bourg Saint Maurice – Le Grand Bornand, 169km
1. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank in 4-53-54
2. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana
3. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at same time
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 2-18
5. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana at same time
6. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana at 2-27
7. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 3-07
8. Christophe Moreau (Fra) Agritubel at 4-09
9. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 4-09
10. Remi Pauriol (Fra) Cofidis at 6-10
Overall classification after stage 17
1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana in 72-27-09
2. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 2-26
3. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 3-25
4. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana at 3-55
5. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana at 4-44
6. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 4-53
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 5-09
8. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 8-08
9. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Francaise des Jeux at 9-19
10. Mikel Astarloza (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 10-50
>> Subscribe to Cycling Weekly this Autumn and save 35%. Enjoy the luxury of home delivery and never miss an issue <<
Bradley Wiggins leads Lance Armstrong before the American attacked
Alberto Contador looked in control again today
Frank Schleck took the stage win, with Contador second
LATEST TOUR NEWS
Tour de France 2009 News Index>>
Astana to split after Tour
Voigt crashes out of Tour
Armstrong fighting hard for Tour podium place
Wiggins gets closer to Tour podium place
Who’s won what so far in the Tour de France
How the Tour favourite are doing (Rest day 2)
Wiggins climbs to third in Tour overall
Armstrong concedes he can’t win the 2009 Tour
Tom Boonen quits the Tour de France
Stage 15 analysis: Is the Tour now over?
Columbia criticise Garmin for chasing Hincapie
Cavendish reveals he is going for green
Tour comment: The suspense is killing us
Analysis: Why Cavendish is one of the modern greats
Radio ban over-turned for Friday’s Tour stage
Arvesen out of Tour with fractured collarbone
Tour analysis: Why the go slow did cycling no favours on Bastille Day
Cavendish’s odd stage 10 finish celebration explained
No radios today, but experiment could be a one-off
Tour audio: Mark Cavendish after stage 10
Contador brushes aside talk of Armstrong conflict
Cavendish odds-on favourite for Bastille Day victory
The Tour de France Comment: Monday, July 13
How the favourites are doing (first rest day)
Wiggins stays with leaders at Tour
Armstrong: ‘If Contador wins, I’ll be second’
Wiggins ‘on cloud nine’ at Tour de France
Armstrong says Contador attack wasn’t in the plan
Cavendish survives the first Tour mountain stage with ease
Wiggins, the Tour de France overall contender, has arrived
TOUR DE FRANCE 2009 PHOTOS
Tour de France 2009: Who will win?
Tour de France 2009 on TV: Eurosport and ITV4 schedules
Big names missing from 2009 Tour de France
Tour de France anti-doping measures explained
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Cavendish
Cycling Weekly’s rider profiles