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
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
Stage 16: Astarloza snatches Alps stage win as contenders wind up the pace
Stage 15: Contador wins in Verbier as Tour explodes into life
Stage 14: Ivanov wins as Nocentini clings onto yellow
Stage 13: Haussler braves rain for victory in Colmar
Stage 12: Sorensen wins in Vittel as Cavendish goes for green
Stage 11: Cavendish takes fourth win to equal Hoban’s record
Stage 10: Cavendish spoils Bastille Day party to take third stage win
Stage nine: Third French win as contenders content with ceasefire
stage eight: Sanchez wins from break as Tour favourites cancel each other out
Stage seven: Feillu wins at Arcalis, Nocentini takes yellow, Contador leap-frogs Lance
Stage six: Millar’s brave bid denied on Barcelona hill as Hushovd triumphs
Stage five: Voeckler survives chase to win his first Tour stage
Stage four: Astana on top but Armstrong misses yellow by hundredths of a second
Live Tour de France stage four TTT coverage
Stage three: Cavendish wins second stage as Armstrong distances Contador
Stage two: Cavendish takes first sprint
Stage one: Cancellara wins opening time trial
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TOUR DE FRANCE 2009 PHOTOS
Stage 16 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 15 photo gallery by Graham Watson
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Stage 11 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 10 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage nine photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage eight photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage seven photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage six photo gallery by Graham Watson
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Stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
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Team presentation by Graham Watson
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