Brice Feillu of Agritubel won the tough first mountain stage in the Pyrenees, with a surprise flip of Astana favorites playing out behind him for the Yellow Jersey.
But in the end, it was Italian Rinaldo Nocentini, of the AGR2 Mondiale team riding in the early breakaway, who became the new Yellow Jersey by 6 seconds, with Contador second, and Armstrong 8 seconds behind and third.
Pic right Brice Feillu of Agritubel
About 1 mile from the top of the Arcalis, Alberto Contador flew away from the peleton: even Andy Schleck couldn't hold on and Armstrong did not chase. It was unclear from the beginning if an agreed upon strategy was to allow Contador to win in a contested field, while Armstrong appeared to keep the field at bay so his teammate could gain the Yellow Jersey in the Pyrenees.
Pic left Rinaldo Nocentini, of the AGR2 Mondiale
It was very, very close, because as part of the breakaway, Nocentini came in before Contador, taking minutes away from Contador's 3rd place, and Contador taking time from Armstrong's second place.
What was certain, Fabian Cancellara was out of the Yellow Jersey when he was dropped at 5 km from the difficult finish.
Cadel Evans launched an attack about 1 mile from the end, and Armstrong and Andreas Kloden responded to the attack, the two bypassed Evans, and Kloden continued to push the pace.
Brice Feillu of Agritubel took the lead in the front group about 5 km from the finish, while in the chase peleton Haimar Zubeldia of Astana picked up where teammate Sergio Paulinho left off, leading the Astana team in a chase of the lead breakaway.
As they pedaled away to catch the lead, many riders were dropped from the peleton, though Fabian Cancellara held on even without most of his teammates until he was dropped at the 5 km mark.
But that was the strategy of the day for Astana, to drive the front of the group and crack Cancellara.
As a time trial rider Cancellara was not expected to be able to compete in the climb. As he fell back from the group, his teammate Andy Schleck went off to catch the peleton. Now Schleck may be the leader in the Saxo Bank team, with Cancellara acting as a domestique.
At six km from the top, before the steepest part of the climb, Astana dominated the lead, with Sergio Paulinho a silver medalist from Athens, doing the pacemaking. The breakaway leaders were 2 km ahead, but only 5 minutes ahead with the gap coming down quickly.
Cadel Evans meanwhile kept himself close to the front with a couple of teammates from Silence Lotto.
Team Astana led up the climb of Arcalis about 14 km from the top of Arcalis, among them was Cancellara, and other riders, most of them without the support of their teams.
A crash about 20 km from the finish around the base of Arcalis, winnowed out a number of riders. Levi Leipheimer who was part of the crash managed to make his way back to the lead peleton group, but Cavendish was left behind. Among those left in the group were the Astana riders Armstrong and Contador as well as the Yellow Jersey leader, Fabian Cancellara.
But that was all before the last leg of the biggest climb of the day.
The stage standings:
1. FEILLU Brice 174 AGRITUBEL 6h 11' 31"
2. KERN Christophe 126 COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE 6h 11' 36" + 00' 05"
3. FRÖHLINGER Johannes 184 TEAM MILRAM 6h 11' 56" + 00' 25"
4. NOCENTINI Rinaldo 87 AG2R-LA MONDIALE 6h 11' 57" + 00' 26"
5. MARTINEZ Egoi 64 EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI 6h 12' 16" + 00' 45"
6. RIBLON Christophe 88 AG2R-LA MONDIALE 6h 12' 36" + 01' 05"
7. PINEAU Jérôme 156 QUICK STEP 6h 14' 03" + 02' 32"
8. GUTIERREZ José Ivan 115 CAISSE D’EPARGNE 6h 14' 45" + 03' 14"
9. CONTADOR Alberto 21 ASTANA 6h 14' 57" + 03' 26"
10. EVANS Cadel 11 SILENCE - LOTTO 6h 15' 18" + 03' 47"
The overall standings:
1. NOCENTINI Rinaldo 87 AG2R-LA MONDIALE 25h 44' 32"
2. CONTADOR Alberto 21 ASTANA 25h 44' 38" + 00' 06"
3. ARMSTRONG Lance 22 ASTANA 25h 44' 40" + 00' 08"
4. LEIPHEIMER Levi 24 ASTANA 25h 45' 11" + 00' 39"
5. WIGGINS Bradley 58 GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM 25h 45' 18" + 00' 46"