Schleck takes stage win atop Col du Tourmalet

Coppi and Bartali, Anquetil and Poulidor, Armstrong and Ullrich... now there's Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck. The talented duo today showed that they are head and shoulders ahead of the Tour de France peloton with a masterful display on the slopes of the col du Tourmalet. While Schleck took stage honours it was Contador who will remain in yellow, the likelihood of wearing it into Paris now even stronger.

Side-by-side, like the great rivals of yesteryear, Schleck and Contador battled over the final 10km of today's 174km parcours, having watched each other closely over the col de Marie-Blanque and col du Soulor, the first category climbs that punctuated proceedings on a misty day in the Pyrenees.

With the weather helping create a mood of forboding, all eyes were on the pair as they hit the final significant climb of this year's Tour de France. While there weren't the expected fireworks, there was a touching embrace as the two riders hit the finish line in the top two places - despite the talk of foul play after stage 15 there remains a mutual respect that should be the backbone of this sporting relationship for years to come.

For Contador, the spoils of staying with his rival up the Tourmalet's slopes is the maillot jaune while Schleck can finish on Sunday safe in the knowledge he may not have done enough to take the title - provided a significant performance in the time trial is not forthcoming - but he's got two stage wins and the potential to go all the way one day.

The Luxembourger isn't giving up on hopes of the win, however. "I'm going to try and do a fast time trial; I'm motivated and my form is better than before. You saw that today on the last climb with Alberto and myself," he said after the finish.

"I don't want to sound arrogant but the battle for the win is between me and Contador, with Sanchez and Menchov going for third.

"But I'm not going to give up until we get to Paris - last year I was four minutes down and this year it's eight seconds - anything is possible."

And of the battle between Samuel Sanchez - third place overall, 3:32 behind Contador - and Denis Menchov, who sits in fourth overall, 21 seconds behind Sanchez, it will come down to the time trial on Saturday.

After suffering a serious fall early in today's stage, the Spaniard fought back to narrowly open the gap to his Russian rival, although it's not likely the buffer is big enough given the disparity in ability between the two when it comes to the time trial. The race for the final podium place is far from over.

Farewell to the Pyrenees

It was a fond farewell to the Pyrenees in this centenary of its mountains featuring on the Tour de France route. and was therefore fitting that one of its most famed climbs, the col du Tourmalet, would host one of the most important chapters in this year's edition of the race.

After days of blistering heat the rain and cooler temperatures were surely a pleasant change, despite the obvious dangers the moist roads posed on the descents. Nevertheless, unlike the first week of this year's Tour there were surprisingly few crashes.

Liquigas' Kristijan Koren attacked in the first few kilometres of racing and after six clicks the break had been established and set to work getting a gap over the peloton. Marcus Burghardt (BMC Racing), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky), Alexandr Kolobnev (Team Katusha), Rémi Pauriol (Cofidis), Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky), and Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) joined him ahead of the peloton - first stop: the category four côte de Renoir.

The minute mark was soon reached and with 159km of the stage remaining the gap had been extended to 3:21, just as Stephane Auge, Jose Ivan Gutierrez and Daniel Lloyd attacked the bunch in an attempt to get over to the break. Team RadioShack was having nothing of it and soon shut down the sortie off the front.

Cervélo's Ignatas Konovalovas was another of those to try his luck in an attack and succeeded, dangling off the front of the peloton but in reality going nowhere - he posed no threat to the big names so was left to fend for himself.

With just under 150km of the stage remaining Samuel Sanchez came down hard and was sprawled on the ground; soon after Carlos Sastre could be seen off the front of the peloton as his countryman finally got to his feet and began the process of being paced back to the bunch, which took almost 10km.

As the speedo indicated 34km gone in the stage the break enjoyed a gap of 5:10 and 10 minutes later that had been extended to nearly seven minutes, with Sastre having put a couple of minutes into the peloton. Like the rain, the break's advantage wasn't letting up and pushed on towards eight minutes.

Sastre springs a surprise

Having ridden off the front of the peloton with teammate Konovalovas for the better part of 20km, Sastre decided it was time to head out solo with 122km to go and build on his lead over the peloton. At this point the break was continuing to gain time and had cracked the eight-minute barrier.

On the first category col de Marie-Blanque the break splintered a little but came back together on the descent and with 88km of the stage remaining the gap had grown to 8:21, approaching its maximum advantage for the day.

As the breakaway headed onto the early slopes of the col du Soulor - at 67km to go - it held an advantage of 7:47, with Sastre 4:46 behind the escape. The peloton started the same climb with that deficit cut to 7:19 as Sastre began eating into the gap between himself and the leading septet - within several kilometres of starting the climb he had wiped 30 seconds off it.

But as Sastre passed the sign indicating five clicks to the summit he still had a deficit of 3:41 to the leaders and with Astana controlling the peloton up the Soulor there were only a couple of minutes separating the solo Spaniard - the 2008 Tour champion. With heavy mist shrouding the riders it seemed only a matter of time before he would be pulled back.

And with a small flock of sheep threatening to disupt proceedings in the peloton - making an unexpected appearance on the mountain's slopes - the break crested the climb with a gap of 3:13 to Sastre and 4:59 to the main field. The peloton then summited the Soulor with a deficit of 4:17 and 52.4km remaining in the stage.

Faced with a 24km descent to the intermediate sprint in Adast it was 'safety first' for the main field while the break took the opportunity to claw some time back as a result. As the escapees hit 30km to go, it enjoyed a gap of 5:27 but with the Tourmalet looming the question remained: would it be enough to net one of them a stage win? It was at this point that Sastre decided to ease up on his endeavours, with the time between himself and the peloton dropping to 25 seconds.

Tourmalet time

Through the towns preceeding the Tourmalet, Rabobank and Saxo Bank dominated the front of the peloton - the Dutch squad working hard for Denis Menchov and Robert Gesink, Bjarne Riis' men breaking up the field for Schleck's expected attack.

Up ahead the escape continued to stay together - with 20km to go the gap remained at 4:04 although with the work done by the aforementioned two teams that became 3:55 as the break began the final climb. Within a kilometre that had dropped a further 40 seconds.

Then the expected happened - Boasson Hagen was the first to pop on the Tourmalet, followed by teammate Flecha, then Pauriol, Perez and Koren, with only Burghardt able to stay with Kolobnev, the gap going from 2:46 to 2:31 as Chris Anker Sorensen buried himself for his illustrious teammate in the best young rider's jersey before it was time for Jakob Fuglsang to take over and lift the tempo, shedding more riders who conceded defeat to the speedsters up front.

With 13.7km to go Kolobnev flew off alone and left Burghardt behind as the speed kicked up a notch in the peloton; Schleck's time was running out for an attack but as the gap between Kolobnev and the chasing group dropped below two minutes with 11km to go, it seemed that the big names were on schedule to catch the Russian and begin hitting out in the finale of the stage.

Instead of a GC contender attacking with 10km to go, it was Carlos Barredo hitting out - no sooner had the Spaniard tried his luck than he was followed 20 seconds later by the inevitable attack from Schleck; with Contador on his wheel, the Luxembourger had given himself a tough task if he was to maintain the foray off the front for the final ten kilometres.

Flying past Barredo, the pair left the remainder of the field flailing and as Samuel Sanchez tried getting across with Menchov, the 'Andy and Alberto Show' kicked into another gear, leaving the likes of the Euskaltel-Euskadi leader, the Rabobank captain and his sidekick Gesink, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Roman Kreuziger and Levi Leipheimer behind.

Eating up the deficit to Kolobnev in chunks, with nine kilometres to go the Katusha rider remained seven seconds in front of the dynamic duo sporting the white and yellow jerseys. He was caught 600m later as the leading pair continued its mission to distance itself from the big names behind.

And after less than four kilometres of attacking Schleck and Contador had put more than a minute into the group containing Sanchez and Menchov, the former battling hard despite obviously being in a mountain of pain up the slopes of the famed slopes of the Tourmalet, the latter hoping to usurp his Spanish opponent with the ultimate goal an appearance on the overall podium in Paris.

Final throes on the final mountain

With five kilometres remaining and 1:16 separating the first two groups on the road, the pace was incessant, Schleck checking behind occasionally to see his 'yellow shadow' - Contador - on his wheel. Sensing this presence the Saxo Bank captain tried kicking again as Astana's numero uno matched him stroke for stroke.

On the nine percent gradient and the climb getting more difficult Contador himself kicked with 3.9km to go; Schleck fought hard to respond, managing to do so and giving his friend and foe a long, piercing look when he sidled up to him amidst the cacophony emanating from the manic roadside fans.

Behind them Gesink was riding a superb race, pulling the chasing bunch with his Russian teammate safely tucked in and conserving energy ahead of an expected flurry of attacks in the final kilometres.

There were no such attacks coming from the leading pair however, the efforts of the final 10,000 metres leaving nothing in the tank of either rider. The mutual respect between each dictated the outcome - Schleck would have the stage honours thanks to the work he had done throughout the course of the Tourmalet whilst Contador would sure up his ascendancy overall courtesy of the response to his young rival.

And so it was that Schleck took his second stage win of this year's race, followed by Contador and 1:18 later, countryman Joaquim Rodriguez finished in third. A fantastic effort from Ryder Hesjedal netted fourth place, 1:27 behind the winner and an exhausted Sanchez rolled over the line five seconds later.

Full Results

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank5:03:29
2Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) AstanaRow 1 - Cell 2
3Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha0:01:18
4Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions0:01:27
5Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi0:01:32
6Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank0:01:40
7Robert Gesink (Ned) RabobankRow 6 - Cell 2
8Christopher Horner (USA) Team Radioshack0:01:45
9Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto0:01:48
10Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo0:02:14
11Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini0:03:00
12Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale0:03:26
13Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team Radioshack0:03:30
14John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:03:35
15Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr) Team HTC - Columbia0:03:44
16Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing Team0:03:58
17Lance Armstrong (USA) Team Radioshack0:04:12
18Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Quick Step0:04:16
19Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Caisse d'Epargne0:04:27
20Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'EpargneRow 19 - Cell 2
21Pierre Rolland (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom0:04:30
22Christophe Moreau (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne0:04:36
23Ruben Plaza Molina (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne0:04:59
24Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi0:05:15
25Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Omega Pharma-Lotto0:05:23
26Amaël Moinard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne0:05:30
27Anthony Charteau (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom0:05:37
28Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Liquigas-Doimo0:05:42
29Cyril Gautier (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom0:05:44
30Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Team Katusha0:05:52
31Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quick Step0:05:56
32Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:05:58
33Thomas Löfkvist (Swe) Sky Professional Cycling Team0:06:21
34Martin Elmiger (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale0:06:35
35Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi0:06:52
36Kristjan Koren (Slo) Liquigas-Doimo0:07:02
37Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux0:07:36
38Mario Aerts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto0:07:49
39Julien El Farès (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne0:07:55
40Rémy Di Grégorio (Fra) Française des Jeux0:08:27
41Juan Manuel Gárate Cepa (Spa) Rabobank0:08:53
42Sergio Paulinho (Por) Team Radioshack0:08:59
43Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team RadioshackRow 42 - Cell 2
44Francis De Greef (Bel) Omega Pharma-LottoRow 43 - Cell 2
45Volodymir Gustov (Ukr) Cervelo Test Team0:09:02
46Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Garmin - Transitions0:09:14
47José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne0:10:12
48Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne0:10:26
49Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana0:10:45
50Thomas Rohregger (Aut) Team MilramRow 49 - Cell 2
51Matthew Lloyd (Aus) Omega Pharma-LottoRow 50 - Cell 2
52Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) AstanaRow 51 - Cell 2
53Iban Velasco Murillo (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi0:10:51
54Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step0:11:16
55Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) Bbox Bouygues TelecomRow 54 - Cell 2
56Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Team Saxo Bank0:11:35
57Chris Anker Sørensen (Den) Team Saxo BankRow 56 - Cell 2
58Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - EuskadiRow 57 - Cell 2
59Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team0:12:00
60Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing TeamRow 59 - Cell 2
61Rui Alberto Faria da Costa (Por) Caisse d'Epargne0:12:05
62David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin - Transitions0:14:41
63Rémi Pauriol (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne0:15:00
64Aitor Perez Arrieta (Spa) Footon-Servetto0:15:35
65Mathieu Perget (Fra) Caisse d'EpargneRow 64 - Cell 2
66Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Team KatushaRow 65 - Cell 2
67George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing TeamRow 66 - Cell 2
68Koos Moerenhout (Ned) RabobankRow 67 - Cell 2
69Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo0:16:28
70Alexander Kuschynski (Blr) Liquigas-DoimoRow 69 - Cell 2
71Jesus Hernandez Blazquez (Spa) AstanaRow 70 - Cell 2
72Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team0:16:48
73Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana0:16:52
74Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team KatushaRow 73 - Cell 2
75Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank0:17:18
76David De La Fuente Rasilla (Spa) Astana0:17:49
77Grega Bole (Slo) Lampre-Farnese ViniRow 76 - Cell 2
78Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky Professional Cycling Team0:19:33
79Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) Française des Jeux0:19:45
80Maarten Wijnants (Bel) Quick Step0:20:08
81Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Professional Cycling Team0:20:38
82Alan Perez Lezaun (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi0:21:14
83Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Team Milram0:22:34
84Michael Rogers (Aus) Team HTC - Columbia0:23:19
85Maxime Monfort (Bel) Team HTC - ColumbiaRow 84 - Cell 2
86Sebastian Lang (Ger) Omega Pharma-LottoRow 85 - Cell 2
87Francesco Bellotti (Ita) Liquigas-DoimoRow 86 - Cell 2
88Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling TeamRow 87 - Cell 2
89Grischa Niermann (Ger) RabobankRow 88 - Cell 2
90Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Team RadioshackRow 89 - Cell 2
91Grégory Rast (Swi) Team RadioshackRow 90 - Cell 2
92Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Team RadioshackRow 91 - Cell 2
93Lars Boom (Ned) RabobankRow 92 - Cell 2
94Jurgen Van De Walle (Bel) Quick StepRow 93 - Cell 2
95Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick Step0:23:29