Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong was denied the yellow jersey again as unknown home rider Brice Feillu won a dramatic seventh stage of the Tour de France.
Feillu was part of a breakaway group which included Italian Rinaldo Nocentini, who ended Friday as an unlikely race leader after ending up in fourth place on the 224 kilometer stage from Barcelona to Arcalis. Behind the breakaway, the race favorites were engaged in a test of strength and it was Armstrong’s Astana teammate Alberto Contador who sped clear of his rivals with an incredible change of pace. By the finish at the ski station the Spaniard had gained a crucial 21 seconds on Armstrong, overtaking him in the overall standings. But 31-year-old Tuscan Nocentini, who rides for the AG2R team, held a slender six-second advantage over Contador, with Armstrong eight seconds back in third place.
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Armstrong had started the day in second, with the same time as overnight leader Fabian Cancellara, who cracked on the final climb to Arcalis and came in several minutes down. Feillu, racing in the Tour for the first time and the brother of Agritubel teammate Romain, attacked his fellow breakaway riders with just under six kilometers go to and stayed clear for a memorable victory. The group had gained over 12 minutes on the main peloton, but the advantage came down dramatically on the final climb as the Astana team set a fierce pace on the front of the chasing bunch. Cancellara was soon distanced before Australian Cadel Evans, a two-time Tour runner-up, made an unsuccessful bid to gain time in the battle for yellow.
It came to nothing, but Contador bided his time until the final two kilometers as he stood up on his pedals to dance clear. He quickly opened a gap on Armstrong and sent the clearest message to his teammate that he wants to be wearing the yellow jersey in Paris in two weeks time.