Spain's Mikel Astarloza used his climbing and downhill skills to win the mountainous 16th stage of the Tour de France on Tuesday as the leading contenders unsuccessfully tested each other out.
The Basque rider, 29, surged in the last two kilometres of the 159-km trek to Bourg St Maurice to give his Euskaltel team their first Tour stage victory since 2003.
“I'm a good climber, I can keep a good pace on the flat, but I'm not a sprinter. My only chance was to attack from far and I'm delighted it worked,” Astarloza said. Astarloza, who finished ninth overall in 2007, climbed to 11th place in the general classification.
Frenchman Sandy Casar had to be content with his sixth second place in a Tour stage, ahead of compatriot Pierrick Fedrigo, winner of the ninth stage in Tarbes.
Astarloza and the two Frenchmen were part of a break which shaped up in the two big climbs of the day, the Grand St Bernard and Petit St Bernard, crossing over to France from Switzerland and Italy.
Spaniard Alberto Contador retained his leader's yellow jersey one minute 37 seconds ahead of team mate Lance Armstrong with Briton Bradley Wiggins third, 1:46 behind.
The leading contenders seemed content to neutralise each other until six kilometres from the top of the Col du Petit St Bernard when Andy Schleck suddenly raised the tempo.
Only his brother Frank, Contador, his German team mate Andreas Kloeden, Wiggins and Italian Vincenzo Nibali were able to take the Luxembourg champion's wheel.
The main victim of the move was Armstrong, who was initially dropped and seemed destined to lose more ground, like in the climb to Verbier on Sunday.
But the seven-times Tour champion showed he should not be discounted too early.
The American took a little bit of time to recover before closing the gap within one kilometre in the flowing style reminiscent of his glory days.
As a result of his effort, most of the big names, with the exception of Australian Cadel Evans who again lost more than two minutes, reached the top of the Petit St Bernard together.
“It was a difficult stage. When the Schlecks attacked, I was able to follow but it was not easy, especially to follow Andy, who is very strong,” Contador said.
“I'm not going to say I'm tired otherwise I'll be attacked tomorrow but I am,” the Tour leader added before paying tribute to Armstrong, who vowed after the Verbier stage to be his “domestique” from now on.