BAGNERES-DE-LUCHON, France » The gloves have come off at the Tour de France.
Andy Schleck was fighting mad after dropping his chain during a tough climb yesterday and then losing the overall lead when defending champion Alberto Contador unabashedly sped ahead to take the yellow jersey.
"He can be nervous for the next days. … This gives me anger," said Schleck, vowing revenge. "I’m not the one who will get chased any more, I’m the one who chases. That’s a big difference."
The episode highlighted the often-unclear etiquette of cycling’s greatest race, where the wearer of the yellow jersey is conferred almost queen-bee-like respect—and taking advantage of mishaps out of his control is frowned upon.
The breach came on a day when France’s Thomas Voeckler came out of a long breakaway to win the 15th stage from Pamiers to Bagneres to Luchon, finishing a 116.5-mile trek that included the merciless Port de Bales climb in 4 hours, 44 minutes, 51 seconds.
Contador, who gained time while Schleck was putting his chain back on and during a high-speed downhill to the finish, crossed 2:50 back in seventh, while Schleck came in 12th—3:29 after Voeckler.
After more than two weeks and 1,800 miles of racing, the two-time champion from Spain leads Schleck by merely 8 seconds. Spain’s Samuel Sanchez is third, 2:00 back.
With Schleck only 31 seconds ahead going into Monday’s stage and big Pyrenean climbs ahead promising a shakeout, tensions were certain to escalate. The two self-avowed friends had spent one calmer day in this Tour discussing a recent vacation getaway they had had together.
The friendship is now apparently on hold.
"We’re only here in a bike race, so let’s leave it that way," Schleck said after a long pause, when asked if he and Contador were still friends. "I think everybody can make his opinion about the race today."
Schleck hit the accelerator in an attack about 2.5 miles from the top of the Port de Bales, but his chain came unfurled. For a few seconds he pedaled on in disbelief before stopping to fumble with his chain as Contador and other top riders sped by.
At the finish, Schleck swatted back reporters and gritted his teeth in anger. Contador said such woes are part of the sport, and insisted he didn’t know about his rival’s troubles right away.
"Those are the circumstances of the race," he said. "I knew there would be a debate after that, but I attacked before I knew he had a problem with his chain, and I was already ahead when I knew it."
"I understand he’s disappointed."
He wasn’t alone. Contador heard nearly as many boos as cheers when he donned the coveted yellow shirt for the first time this year at the awards ceremony after the stage.
"I’m not going to cry over the yellow jersey," Schleck said.
Tour de France
At Bagnes-de-Luchon, France
15th Stage (116.2 miles)
1. Thomas Voeckler, France, BBOX Bouygues Telecom, 4 hours, 44 minutes, 51 seconds.
2. Alessandro Ballan, Italy, BMC Racing Team, 1 minute, 20 seconds behind.
3. Aitor Perez, Spain, Footon-Servetto, same time.
4. Lloyd Mondory, France, AG2R La Mondiale, 2:50.
5. Luke Roberts, Australia, Team Milram, same time.
6. Francesco Reda, Italy, Quick Step, same time.
7. Alberto Contador, Spain, Astana, same time.
8. Samuel Sanchez, Spain, Euskaltel-Euskadi, same time.
9. Denis Menchov, Russia, Rabobank, same time.
10. Brian Vandborg, Denmark, Liquigas-Doimo, same time.
11. Johan Van Summeren, Belgium, Garmin-Transitions, same time.
12. Andy Schleck, Luxembourg, Team Saxo Bank, 3:29.
13. Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Belgium, Omega Pharma-Lotto, same time.
14. Alexandre Vinokourov, Kazakhstan, Astana, same time.
15. Robert Gesink, Netherlands, Rabobank, 3:55.
16. Ryder Hesjedel, Canada, Garmin-Transitions, same time.
17. Levi Leipheimer, United States, Team RadioShack, same time.
18. John Gadret, France, AG2R La Mondiale, same time.
19. Roman Kreuziger, Czech Republic, Liquigas-Doimo, 4:08.
20. Kevin De Weert, Belgium, Quick Step, same time.
22. Andreas Kloeden, Germany, Team RadioShack, same time.
23. Lance Armstrong, United States, Team RadioShack, same time.
31. Christopher Horner, United States, Team RadioShack, 5:44.
50. Sergio Paulinho, Portugal, Team RadioShack, 9:35.
56. George Hincapie, United States, BMC Racing Team, 13:08.
79. Janez Brajkovic, Slovenia, Team RadioShack, 17:09.
121. Yaroslav Popovych, Ukraine, Team RadioShack, 28:49.
123. Dmitriy Muravyev, Kazakhstan, Team RadioShack, same time.
124. Gregory Rast, Switzerland, Team RadioShack, same time.
147. Brent Bookwalter, United States, BMC Racing Team, same time.
154. David Zabriskie, United States, Garmin-Transitions, same time.
(After 15 stages)
1. Alberto Contador, Spain, Astana, 72 hours, 50 minutes, 42 seconds.
2. Andy Schleck, Luxembourg, Team Saxo Bank, 8 seconds behind.
3. Samuel Sanchez, Spain, Euskaltel-Euskadi, 2:00.
4. Denis Menchov, Russia, Rabobank, 2:13.
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Belgium, Omega Pharma-Lotto, 3:39.
6. Robert Gesink, Netherlands, Rabobank, 5:01.
7. Levi Leipheimer, United States, Team RadioShack, 5:25.
8. Joaquin Rodriguez, Spain, Katusha, 5:45.
9. Alexandre Vinokourov, Kazakhstan, Astana, 7:12.
10. Ryder Hesjedel, Canada, Garmin-Transitions, 7:51.
31. Lance Armstrong, United States, Team RadioShack, 40:31.