ARCALIS, Andorra – In the Tour de France duel between teammates Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador, the first big mountain stage went to the Spaniard.
Contador, the 2007 winner, unleashed a burst of speed on Friday in the last uphill kilometer (mile) into the tiny Pyrenees principality of Andorra – and Armstrong didn’t lay chase.
By the end of the seventh stage, Contador had bumped the seven-time champion from second to third in the overall standings. Perhaps more important, he showed he has the legs for this unrelenting three-week test.
The 224-kilometer (140-mile) trek from Barcelona, Spain, to the ski resort of Arcalis was the longest stage of this Tour. It was won by Brice Feillu of France and produced a new leader in Rinaldo Nocentini.
Nocentini, who joined Feillu in a nine-man breakaway, became the first Italian in nine years to seize the yellow jersey and ended the six-day hold on the lead by Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara.
Contador is six seconds behind Nocentini, a Tour newcomer at age 31. Armstrong dropped one spot to third and is eight seconds back.
The question of the day was whether strong climbers would attack Armstrong and Contador, hoping to cut into their deficits from the two time trials during the last week.
Armstrong entered the day a fraction of a second behind Cancellara. Contador trailed by 19 seconds in third.
Astana’s plan had been to let less threatening breakaway riders go while squelching attacks from more serious rivals like Cadel Evans of Australia, Andy Schleck of Luxembourg or 2008 Tour champion Carlos Sastre of Spain.
After Evans, a two-time Tour runner-up, took his shot in the final climb, Armstrong hugged the Australian’s back wheel. Then Contador struck.
Withstanding the headwinds along the slopes that make solo riding exhausting, the Spaniard overcame his gap with Armstrong. He said his real motivation was gaining time on other contenders.
“I was just asserting my position against my main rivals,” Contador said. “Nothing was planned in advance, but when I saw Evans and Schleck didn’t budge, I sensed the opportunity because I had good legs.” (AP)