Thomas Voeckler secured a fine solo win in Stage 15 of the Tour de France in Bagnères de Luchon this afternoon, but there was huge drama, not to mention controversy, behind him with defending champion Alberto Contador taking the race leader’s yellow jersey from Andy Schleck after the Spaniard apparently broke the unwritten rule of not attacking the maillot jaune when he is in trouble - although there is some debate as to whether that unwritten rule includes trouble of self-inflicted nature.
The 39 seconds Contador gained after racing past Schleck, who was clearly suffering a mechanical problem, and accelerating away puts the Astana man 8 seconds ahead of the Team Saxo Bank rider in the overall standings.
Contador, roundly booed on the podium as he was presented with the yellow jersey, will no doubt point to the fact that seconds before Schleck’s mishap, which took place as the pair approached the summit of the day’s final climb, the Port de Balès, the Team Saxo Bank rider had launched an attack, only for his chain to slip as he appeared to try and shift into the big ring.
Opinion among fans and pundits alike is split on whether Contador did the right thing – Sean Kelly, four times points champion in the Tour de France, said on Eurosport’s live commentary that he should have waited, while his contemporary and fellow Irishman Stephen Roche, winner of the overall title in 1987, said it was rider error on Schleck’s part and the Spaniard was therefore justified in attacking. In the after Tour show on France-2 former Tour de France champions apparently queued up to give the opinion that "that's racing" including Schleck's directeur sportif, Bjarne Riis.One thing’s for certain – we haven’t heard the last of this.
Whether Schleck’s attack would have resulted in him putting time into Contador to consolidate the 31-second lead he had held this morning is debatable. True, the Spaniard was slow to respond, but his team mate Alexander Vinokourov, seemingly indefatigable these past few days, was quickly onto the Luxembourg rider’s wheel.
Indeed, it’s possible, given Schleck is by no means the best descender in the peloton, that he was trying to build some insurance ahead of the long, fast and technical downhill run to the finish, particularly since the group he was in contained Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Samuel Sanchez, third in the GC, and probably the quickest man in the race when it comes to getting a bike from the top of a mountain to the bottom.
As it turned out, Schleck, who had crested the summit 16 seconds or so behind Contador, put in what must be one of the best descents of his life to limit his losses to a second a kilometre on the way down, but with the Astana rider following Sanchez’s line all the way down to the finish, it was to now avail as he lost the maillot jaune.
Sanchez himself now lies precisely two minutes off the race lead, and may well go hell for leather tomorrow with a 61km descent off the Aubisque into Pau, punctuate by a couple of small, uncategorised climbs. Denis Menchov, who stuck with the Sanchez and Contador group on the way down from the Port de Balès, is a further 13 seconds back.
The drama unfolding behind him did little to spoil Voeckler’s enjoyment of winning a Tour de France stage for the second year running, although the fact he nearly straight into the side of a barn on the lightning fast descent from the Port de Balès almost did.Luckily, the Bbox Bouygues Telecom rider, who had proved the strongest of a 10-man breakaway that got away halfway through today's 187km stage from Pamiers, avoided that obstacle, and rode into Bagnères de Luchon more than a minute ahead of fellow escapees Alessandro Ballan of BMC Racing and Aitor Perez Arrieta of Footon Servetto.
Voeckler, nicknamed ‘le chouchou’ – a rough translation would be ‘France’s darling’ – and wearing the national champion's tricouleur jersey, his Colnago painted to match, had time to whip up and then savour the crowd’s applause - a very different reception to the one that Contador would receive on the podium a few minutes later.
Top 20 Tour de France 2010 Stage 15
1. VOECKLER Thomas BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM 4h 44' 51" 2. BALLAN Alessandro BMC RACING TEAM + 01' 20" 3. PEREZ ARRIETA Aitor FOOTON-SERVETTO + 01' 20" 4. MONDORY Lloyd AG2R LA MONDIALE + 02' 50" 5. ROBERTS Luke TEAM MILRAM + 02' 50" 6. REDA Francesco QUICK STEP + 02' 50" 7. CONTADOR Alberto ASTANA + 02' 50" 8. SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 02' 50" 9. MENCHOV Denis RABOBANK + 02' 50" 10. VANDBORG Brian LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 02' 50" 11. VAN SUMMEREN Johan GARMIN - TRANSITIONS + 02' 50" 12. SCHLECK Andy TEAM SAXO BANK + 03' 29" 13. VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO + 03' 29" 14. VINOKOUROV Alexandre ASTANA + 03' 29" 15. GESINK Robert RABOBANK + 03' 55" 16. HESJEDAL Ryder GARMIN - TRANSITIONS + 03' 55" 17. LEIPHEIMER Levi TEAM RADIOSHACK + 03' 55"
18. GADRET John AG2R LA MONDIALE + 03' 55"
19. KREUZIGER Roman LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 04' 08"
20. DE WEERT Kevin QUICK STEP + 04' 08"
Top 20 on General Classification after Stage 15
1. CONTADOR Alberto ASTANA 72h 50' 42" 2. SCHLECK Andy TEAM SAXO BANK + 00' 08" 3. SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 02' 00" 4. MENCHOV Denis RABOBANK + 02' 13" 5. VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO + 03' 39" 6. GESINK Robert RABOBANK + 05' 01" 7. LEIPHEIMER Levi TEAM RADIOSHACK + 05' 25" 8. RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin KATUSHA TEAM + 05' 45" 9. VINOKOUROV Alexandre ASTANA + 07' 12" 10. HESJEDAL Ryder GARMIN - TRANSITIONS + 07' 51" 11. KREUZIGER Roman LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 07' 58" 12. SANCHEZ Luis-Leon CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 08' 19" 13. SASTRE Carlos CERVELO TEST TEAM + 09' 02" 14. BASSO Ivan LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 09' 15" 15. KLÖDEN Andréas TEAM RADIOSHACK + 11' 14" 16. LÖVKVIST Thomas SKY PRO CYCLING + 12' 09" 17. ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE + 12' 34"
18. DE WEERT Kevin QUICK STEP + 14' 07"
19. GADRET John AG2R LA MONDIALE + 14' 24"
20. PLAZA MOLINA Ruben CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 14' 47"
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.