Tour de France: Andy Schleck is overtaken by a chain of events
Overwhelming favourite Alberto Contador finally netted the Tour's lead with a searing mountain attack yesterday, but he also ran into a huge controversy over the ethics of challenging for top position when his main rival — in this case Andy Schleck — was desperately trying to repair his bike on the roadside.
Booed and whistled when the Spaniard stepped onto the podium to collect his first yellow jersey of the 2010 race, Contador now has an eight second advantage on Schleck.
Contador's attack came on the crucial final climb of the stage, the Porte de Bales, and just seconds after Schleck, clad in his yellow jersey's leader, had launched his own powerful move.
The Saxo Bank rider appeared to have caught Contador napping and opened up a gap of several metres on the pack of a dozen riders including the Spaniard.
But as Contador finally responded, regaining ground, Schleck was straining so hard and possibly trying to make a huge gear change — in a car, the equivalent would be from first to fourth — that his bike chain came off.
Whilst Schleck lost around close to a minute before finally resolving his bike's problem, two other key contenders, Samuel Sanchez and Denis Menchov, joined forces with Contador in trying to open up as big a gap as possible.
The Spaniard claimed later — unconvincingly — that he had not seen Schleck standing on the side of the road, but to judge by his
half-hearted participation in the attack, he was not entirely comfortable with the situation, either.
By the summit, although the stage win was no longer a possibility — that went to France's Thomas Voeckler, clad in his national champion's jersey after a superb lone attack — Contador and co. had opened up a gap of 27 seconds. Four more, and the yellow jersey would be his.
Following the wheel of one of the sport's top downhillers, 2008 Olympic Champion Samuel Sanchez, hugely facilitated Contador's breakneck descent of one of the Pyrenee's most complicated climbs.
However, behind Andy Schleck was just as determined not to let the yellow jersey out of his clutches, hunching forward over the bike to lower the wind resistance to a maximum on the twisting, narrow road to Bagneres-de-Luchon.
Sadly for Schleck, Contador's margin stretched inexorably wider, despite an incident on the last corner when he brushed past Frenchman Lloyd Mondory with barely an inch of space between himself and the barriers.
Seventh on the stage, Contador's advantage over Schleck was finally 39 seconds, enough to gain him the race lead.
But as Schleck crossed the line with a face like thunder, it was clear this was going to be no triumphant seizure of power for Contador — rather for many, this was taking control by the most underhand of means.