Former maillot jauneJan Bakelants and Maxime Monfort were the shining lights for RadioShack Leopard, with the former launching an attack on Mont Ventoux while Andy Schleck failed to live up to internal predictions of a stage 15 win, finishing close to 11 minutes off the pace.
Schleck has shown brief moments of promise so far during the Tour and heading into Sunday's stage, was 15th overall, enough for the team's general manager Luca Guercilena to suggest that the Luxembourger could win from a late attack. Schleck however, was never in line for such a move, being dropped with about 15km left to race on the 242.5km stage.
"I don't know what went wrong; I just wasn't good enough to go with the best today," he explained. "I thought I would be a lot better and actually it's a stage that suits me well. I took care all day to conserve energy but in the end clearly I was not on a good day."
At the completion of the stage, Schleck is 18th overall 19:14 down on the lead of Sky's Chris Froome. The 28-year-old however remained optimistic of a stand-out performance in the final week of the Tour.
"When one door closes another opens, so perhaps I will be good on Alpe d'Huez," Schleck mused. "I am far enough down now that I should be let go in a breakaway. Now it is like this. I am disappointed but I won't hang my head. I will keep my head up and fight for victory in another stage."
The plan, with teammate Markel Irizar in the 10-man breakaway, had been for the Spaniard to set up Schleck for a possible attack but instead, it was Bakelants who profited from the move. Irizar, up the road with Christophe Riblon (AG2R LaMondiale) while a lone Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) was further ahead, launched Bakelants with around 16km to go. The Belgian was joined by Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel Euskadi), but with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) next to make a move, Bakelants couldn't keep up the pace, caught with about 10km left to race.
"I can never win on this climb against the big engines but am happy with my performance," said Bakelants. "The last 5k were hell as my sugar reserves were depleted. I should have eaten earlier. It was hard to follow Quintana and Nieve – they weigh 20- and 10kg less than me! I'm happy I showed myself. In the end there was just a small group left with me so my speed must not have been too slow. This was my first time on Ventoux. I had no idea what to expect. The crowds were impressive."
Monfort was the team's best finisher in 20th place while Bakelants was 23rd.
"It was a crazy stage," admitted team director Kim Andersen. "It's not often that you see a hard stage like this go so fast. The first four hours we had an average of 47km/h. Then we arrived at the climb and everything exploded. We tried to play our cards with Andy and Max but Andy did not have a good day. Max, however, did a good job; he can be very pleased. It was a hard stage and the strongest rider won. There isn't much else to say. I think everyone needs a rest day now."