The Schleck Brothers, Fränk and Andy put the pressure on Alberto Contador in the Tour de France's first mountain stage today to Luz Ardiden. Older brother Fränk attacked three times, the third time riding free over defending Tour champion Contador.
"The Tour has finally begun," Fränk Schleck said after an anti-doping control. "We rode a beautiful race."
"This," added Andy, "showed Contador is not unbeatable."
Team Saxo Bank's Contador appeared weakened today, unlike the rider who used the mountains to win his three Tour titles. Even if we must remember that his third title from last year is still in limbo due to a failed doping test. The stress of a pending appeal hearing and crashes in the first 10 days of this Tour seemed to have taken their toll.
Contador lost 33 seconds today to the best-placed Tour contender, Fränk Schleck.
"I didn't feel great today," the Spaniard explained.
Contador crashed three times so far in this race, twice on stage five to Cap Fréhel and once on the stage to Saint Flour on Sunday. He hurt his knee in the crashes and complained of knee pain over the rest day on Monday.
"I'm actually feeling better than I have been in the past days," he added today. "I am improving. Tomorrow, I should feel better. On balance, it's been a good day."
The day, ending at 1,715 metres on Luz Ardiden, belonged to Spaniard Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and the Schlecks. Sánchez won the stage, but the Schlecks cracked Contador on the Pyrenean climb.
Luxembourger Fränk Schleck attacked with 3.7 and 3.3 kilometres to race, but was chased by Contador. Andy Schleck marked Contador, which allowed for his brother to try a second, successful time with 2.5 kilometres to race.
Fränk started the day 1-38 minutes ahead of Contador, gained 33 seconds and now leads him by 2-11 minutes. Contador chased, but was attacked by his other rivals, Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing). They gapped him with Andy Schleck, gaining 13 seconds.
"It's been a hard start to the Tour for Contador, many crashes and problems," Basso said. "However, I am not going to let my guard down, he's a huge talent. Remember, only one of his attacks could turn this Tour around."
If Contador's knee is healing, he'll need to stay in contention in the Pyrenees and attack in the three Alpine stages next week. If not, one of the Shlecks, Basso or Evans will win the Tour on July 24 in Paris.
The virtual GC
Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek)
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) 17"
Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) 28"
Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) 1'27"
Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) 2'11"
Tour de France 2011: Related links
Tour de France 2011: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
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