Alberto Contador took over the Tour de France lead after Andy Schleck lost time when his bike chain got snarled up as he attacked on a Pyrenees climb.
Previous leader Schleck had to stop for about half a minute on the Port de Bales ascent near the end of stage 15 yesterday as he struggled to fix the problem. Some fans jeered as Contador put on the yellow jersey in a podium ceremony. Cyclists sometimes stop when a rival has a mechanical fault or crash.
“I perfectly understand there’s a certain controversy,” Contador told reporters. “It’s a delicate situation.”
Contador said he didn’t become aware of Schleck’s problem until after he had passed him on the mountain.
Defending champion Contador, who had trailed last year’s runner-up Schleck by 31 seconds, will take an 8-second lead into today’s 199.5-kilometer (124-mile) 16th stage between Bagneres-de-Luchon and Pau. The 20-stage race ends July 25 in Paris.
Schleck said he was upset that Contador took advantage of his mishap. Samuel Sanchez and Denis Menchov, who are third and fourth respectively, also profited to cut their deficit to Schleck in the overall standings.
“My stomach is full of anger and I want to take my revenge” in the coming days, Schleck told reporters. “I’m not the jury but for sure those guys wouldn’t get the fair-play award from me today.”
In 2001, Lance Armstrong stopped when rival Jan Ullrich crashed. The Texan then went on to win the third of his seven Tour de France titles
Johan Bruyneel, who oversaw all Armstrong’s Tour wins and was Contador’s team manager last year, said the Spaniard didn’t do anything wrong.
“I don’t think there’s anybody to blame,” Bruyneel said. “There are no gifts in this race.”
Contador said rivals didn’t stop when he was slowed by a mechanical problem near the end of stage two to Spa, Belgium, a ride partly over cobblestones.
Astana team rider Contador is seeking a third Tour de France victory in four years. Saxo Bank’s Schleck is trying to become Luxembourg’s first winner since Charly Gaul in 1958.
Thomas Voeckler of the Bbox team won yesterday’s stage, a 187.5-kilometer ride between Pamiers and Bagneres-de-Luchon, to become the fifth French stage winner of this edition.
Armstrong, riding his last Tour de France, is 31st overall, more than 40 minutes behind the leader. He was 23rd yesterday, about four minutes adrift of Voeckler.