Defending champion Alberto Contador finally attacked his rivals at the Tour de France on Tuesday, but it was Cadel Evans, left, who gained the most as the Brothers Schleck fell off the pace.
Meanwhile, Norway's Thor Hushovd (right, Garmin Cervelo) took the final sprint in a three-man breakaway on Stage 16, winning his second stage of the Tour de France this year with the help of Canadian teammate Ryder Hesjedahl.
In spite of the fireworks on the rain-slicked Category 2 Col du Manse on Tuesday, overall leader Thomas Voeckler valiantly held onto the yellow jersey, losing a few seconds to Evans and Contador but gaining time over Andy Schleck.
The 162.5km (101-mile) bike race from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap was listed as a medium mountain stage in the transition into three days of racing in the Alps.
It previewed the coming battle among the leaders sparked by Contador's need to make up nearly 4 minutes to the yellow jersey. It ended a week of apparent complacency among the leaders as they matched and marked each other on the climbs.
After the bike race, BMC's George Hincapie said the team kept Evans with the leaders as the Col du Manse approached just to be safe, but they were “surprised” by the move made by Contador.
As the peloton headed up the Col du Manse, Contador jumped on the pedals and attacked up the hill. All the leaders responded, leaving the rest of the field behind them.
Then Contador attacked again with Voeckler on his wheel. Evans and Sammy Sanchez (Euskalel Euskadi) responded, but Voeckler fell off the pace and the Brothers Schleck were nowhere to be seen.
Apparently the Shlecks' short accelerations on climbs in the Pyrenees hadn't impressed Contador, and he had set out to test their stamina. It appeared that Andy was the one suffering, as brother Frank Schleck tried to nurse him along.
That's when Evans attacked and left Contador and Sanchez in his wheel spray. Evans bombed down the hill, safely passing the famous spot in the 2004 Tour where Josef Beloki crashed and sent Lance Armstrong coasting across a field and hopping a ditch to get back on the course.
At the finish, Evans gained 3 seconds on Contador and 21 seconds on Frank Schleck, which put him back into second place. He also gained 1:09 on Andy Schleck, who remained in 4th place overall, but lost time.
Meanwhile, up ahead, Hesjedahl had gone on a solo attack up the Col du Manse, but was caught by teammate Hushovd and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky). Hesjedahl led the others to the sprint zone, where Hushovd attacked, catching Boasson Hagen by surprise and taking the win for Garmin-Cervelo.
Top 10 overall
1 Thomas Voeckler, Team Europcar
2 Cadel Evans, BMC Racing Team — 1:45
3 Fränk Schleck, Leopard Trek — 1:49
4 Andy Schleck, Leopard Trek — 3:03
5 Samuel Sanchez, Euskaltel-Euskadi — 3:26
6 Alberto Contador, Saxo Bank — 3:42
7 Ivan Basso, Liquigas-Cannondale — 3:49
8 Damiano Cunego, Lampre – ISD — 4:01
9 Thomas Danielson, Team Garmin-Cervelo — 6:04
10 Rigoberto Uran, Sky — 7:55