BAGNERES-DE-LUCHON, France -- Thomas Voeckler of France won Stage 15 of the Tour de France, while a popped chain on the bike of Andy Schleck allowed defending champion Alberto Contador to steal the coveted yellow jersey as the overall leader of cycling's most prestigious event.
Schleck had held the overall lead since Stage 9 last Tuesday and was battling Contador on the final climb of Monday's 187.5-kilometer trek through the Pyrenees when the chain popped. That allowed Contador to move ahead and the Spaniard maintained the advantage to the line, finishing 39 seconds ahead of his rival from Luxembourg.
Contador trailed by 31 seconds entering Monday's stage, but now has an overall lead of eight seconds with just five days remaining in this year's Tour.
"At this moment it's a really good situation, but actually 30 seconds more or 30 seconds less could change things a bit," said Contador, who also took the overall lead last year during Stage 15 on the way to his second Tour de France win. "It's always good to be ahead in the general classification."
Voeckler finished Monday in a time of four hours, 44 minutes and 51 seconds for his second career stage victory.
Frenchman Alessandro Ballan and Spain's Aitor Perez Arrieta were the next to cross, 1:20 behind Voeckler. Contador's group, with Spain's Samuel Sanchez and Russia's Denis Menchov, followed with a deficit of 2:50. Then came Schleck.
While Voeckler was well ahead of the pack and on his way to a stage win, Schleck began an attack about three kilometers from the top of the Port de Bales in an effort to reach the crest before Contador with a downhill run to the finish line.
The chain on Schleck's bike popped and Contador raced past him. Schleck took about 20 seconds to get the chain back on, but was hopelessly behind and did all he could on the downhill descent to make up some time.
"Now I'm really angry," said Schleck, who was still somewhat composed when asked about the situation afterward. "What happened, happens. I cannot change the situation even if I'm mad. Of course I wouldn't have minded to throw my bike into the fence and just hit someone, but you've got to keep yourself under control in situations like this. If you just stay calm it's worthwhile. If [I] yell at people, it won't change the situation. It is how it is."
Since it was a mechanical malfunction that cost Schleck, many have speculated that Contador should have waited for his rival in a show of sportsmanship.
"I didn't know anything about the problems with Andy Schleck, but when I realized it I was already ahead of him," Contador noted. "The only things that I saw was that he was beginning to attack and then he slowed down. I didn't realize that he had a problem with the bike. When I attacked it was before he had the problem. In Spa, he had a big crash but today when I attacked it wasn't because I knew he had problems."
Contador and Schleck both pointed to an incident early in the Tour, when Schleck fell during Stage Two and the Spaniard waited with other members of the peloton for those who crashed to catch up.
"People can say what they want but they also have realize that Alberto was one of the guys who waited for me in Spa and that was really a great sign of fair play," Schleck remarked. "Today was a different story, a different scenario, but the Tour is not finished."
A torturous ride of 199.5 kilometers from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Pau awaits in Stage 16 on Tuesday. Four steep climbs in the Pyrenees highlight the journey before a sprint to the finish.
The Tour then takes Wednesday as a rest day before one more mountain stage on Thursday, a simple ride on Friday and an individual time trial on Saturday prior to Sunday's traditional finish along the Champs Elysees in Paris.