Andy Schleck of Team Saxo Bank launched a sensational late attack to send a clear message to defending champion Alberto Contador that he has a fight on his hand to win his third Tour de France in four years on Stage 8 in Morzine-Avoriaz, this afternoon, with Cadel Evans moving into the yellow jersey.
Meanwhile, Lance Armstrong’s dreams of taking a record eighth Tour de France victory and with it become the oldest rider to sport the maillot jaune in Paris suffered what is almost certainly a mortal blow today as the 97th edition of the race headed into the Alps.
How much Armstrong’s problems derived from two crashes, one early on in the 190km stage, the second 50km from the finish, and how much it was due to the 38-year-old’s legs no longer being able to cope with the demands of the type of high mountain stage is open to question.
What’s clear, though, is that by the time he crossed the line almost 12 minutes down on Schleck, the Texan’s dreams of finishing the race in the maillot jaune were as tattered as his Team RadioShack jersey after he was dropped by the main group with 38km left to race, his situation not helped by being caught behind a third crash, causing him to lose even more time.
Schleck’s decisive attack came inside the closing two kilometers of the 190km stage, shortly after first Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas then Robert Gesink of Rabobank had tried to get off the front of the group containing most of the main contenders, not long after the final two survivors of the day’s breakaway had been passed.
Both Gesink and Kreuziger were quickly brought back, but when Schleck, wearing the white jersey as leader of the young riders classification, made his move, only Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel managed to stay with him, the Team Saxo Bank rider outsprinting the Olympic champion to the line as he not only won the stage but moved up to second overall.
Gesink brought home the group containing Contador, fifth on the stage and now lying third in the general classification, and Evans. The latter, another rider caught up in that early crash, was by now hanging on grimly, but managed to hold on as he moved into the yellow jersey.
Besides Armstrong, one big name missing from that group, however, was Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins, dropped 3.5km and shepherded home in 19th position by team-mate Thomas Lovkvist, 1’45” behind Schleck, damaging his hopes of improving on last year’s fourth place finish.
Sylvain Chavanel, who began the day in the maillot jaune, finished five seconds ahead of Armstrong but 11’40” behind Schleck, however team-mate Jerome Pineau retains the lead in the mountains classification to keep hold of the polka dot jersey for another day, despite suffering some deep cuts in the same crash that Armstrong and Evans had been involved in just 10km into the stage.
Today's events will no doubt give Armstrong in particular cause for reflection on tomorrow's rest day before racing resumes on Tuesday with another high mountain stage, taking in the Hors-Categorie Col de la Madeleine on a 204.5km route from Morzine-Avoriaz to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.
Top 20 Tour de France 2010 Stage 8
1. SCHLECK Andy TEAM SAXO BANK 4h 54' 11" 2. SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 00' 00" 3. GESINK Robert RABOBANK + 00' 10" 4. KREUZIGER Roman LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 00' 10" 5. CONTADOR Alberto ASTANA + 00' 10" 6. EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 00' 10" 7. VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO + 00' 10" 8. LEIPHEIMER Levi TEAM RADIOSHACK + 00' 10" 9. BASSO Ivan LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 00' 10" 10. MENCHOV Denis RABOBANK + 00' 10" 11. SASTRE Carlos CERVELO TEST TEAM + 00' 10" 12. ROGERS Michael TEAM HTC - COLUMBIA + 00' 20" 13. RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin TEAM KATUSHA + 00' 39" 14. HESJEDAL Ryder GARMIN - TRANSITIONS + 01' 14" 15. DE WEERT Kevin QUICK STEP + 01' 14" 16. KLÖDEN Andréas TEAM RADIOSHACK + 01' 14" 17. PLAZA MOLINA Ruben CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 01' 37" 18. LÖVKVIST Thomas SKY PRO CYCLING + 01' 45"
19. WIGGINS Bradley SKY PRO CYCLING + 01' 45"
20. CHARTEAU Anthony BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM + 02' 05"
Top 20 on General Classification after Stage 8
1. EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM 37h 57' 09" 2. SCHLECK Andy TEAM SAXO BANK + 00' 20" 3. CONTADOR Alberto ASTANA + 01' 01" 4. VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO + 01' 03" 5. MENCHOV Denis RABOBANK + 01' 10" 6. HESJEDAL Ryder GARMIN - TRANSITIONS + 01' 11" 7. KREUZIGER Roman LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 01' 45" 8. LEIPHEIMER Levi TEAM RADIOSHACK + 02' 14" 9. SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 02' 15" 10 ROGERS Michael TEAM HTC - COLUMBIA + 02' 31" 11. GESINK Robert RABOBANK + 02' 37" 12. SASTRE Carlos CERVELO TEST TEAM + 02' 40" 13. BASSO Ivan LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 02' 41" 14. WIGGINS Bradley SKY PRO CYCLING + 02' 45" 15. VINOKOUROV Alexandre ASTANA + 03' 05" 16. ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE + 03' 11" 17. RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin TEAM KATUSHA + 03' 23" 18. LÖVKVIST Thomas SKY PRO CYCLING + 03' 30"
19. VALLS FERRI Rafael FOOTON-SERVETTO + 04' 27"
20. SANCHEZ Luis-Leon CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 05' 03"
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.