The Schleck brothers tag-teamed the yellow jersey group with Fränk ultimately able to ride away to finish alone in third place.
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Leopard Trek distancing rivals on Luz-Ardiden
Leopard Trek passed the first Pyrenean stage of the Tour de France with both Fränk and Andy Schleck putting time into Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) and manager Brian Nygaard claiming that the performance had gone some way to silencing critics that doubted Andy Schleck's form after the Tour de Suisse.
Fränk Schleck came away from the stage with third place, but his final attack in the closing kilometres caught several of his rivals napping, and as well as putting time into Contador, he carved out vital seconds over Cadel Evans and Ivan Basso. Andy finished with Basso and Evans and also distanced himself from an off-colour Contador.
"It was a good day for us. I could see they were looking at us and then Fränk and me kept on attacking left and right. He went away and got some time and for the first mountain stage we're pretty happy," Andy said at the Leopard team bus.
"Of course it's pleasing, Levi Leipheimer and Alberto both lost time. I'm happy when any GC rival loses times in the mountains. It shows that we're on the right way but we've seen a really strong ride from Basso, Evans. You've got to watch out for them."
The Schlecks will still be wary of a misfiring Contador, but already the GC landscape is beginning to take shape. Although Thomas Voeckler retained his yellow jersey with one of the most courageous performances the Tour has seen in recent years, both Evans and Basso – and to some extent Cunego – have now emerged as this year's genuine podium contenders.
"Contador is one of the best riders in the peloton and I believe he's going to be get better each day. I didn't notice he was suffering to be honest, I only saw he wasn't there when I crossed the line and I was pretty empty. Cadel and Ivan are the biggest rivals now."
As Schleck towelled himself down and waited for the rest of his teammates to arrive at the finish, Nygaard emerged to greet his young climber with a wide grin and kiss of congratulations.
"I'm just happy and content," he told Cyclingnews. "I was nervous coming into the stage because it's the first big test, but we did well."
But like Schleck he took note of the fact that the Tour is both a long way from Paris with more tests in the Pyrenees, the Alps and the time trial in Grenoble still to come.
"It's a long way from saying we've won anything. Evans is just as strong as he's ever been and he didn't show any weakness at all. I think Fränk's attack was a surprise move and he caught some guys off guard, and Ivan Basso is back in the game."
As for Contador, who retreated to a team car with his brother and manager Fran, and Bjarne Riis for a debriefing, Nygaard refused to rule him out. A six time grand tour winner in his own right, Contador has stamped his authority on stage racing since emerging from a scandal hit Tour in 2007 and never lost a grand tour he's started since.
"It's still a long Tour and he has a massive advantage in the time trial on a lot of those guys and everything is still possible for him. He can also play poker a little bit and wait for the last week when some guys could have a bad day, but our guys are on the way up and we've probably silenced a few sceptics who doubted Andy's shape from the Tour de Suisse."
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