The race for the Tour de France became a duel today as Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck distanced themselves from their yellow jersey rivals on the second Alpine stage.
Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) beat Contador (Astana) to the race leader's maillot jaune conceded after Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) imploded on the 97th Tour's first hors categorie (beyond category) climb, the Col de la Madeleine.
Sandy Casar (FDJ) won the 204.5-kilometre ninth stage from Morzine-Avoriaz to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in a sprint finish, but the more significant battle in the race to Paris was taking place between Contador and Schleck, the winner of Sunday's first Alpine stage.
The duo tracked each other on the second half of the 25.5km ascent of the Madeleine and hit the summit two minutes 10 seconds behind the four race leaders.
The rapid ascent saw Schleck and Contador gain time on five riders and set up a sprint finish won by Frenchman Casar from Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse D'Epargne) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese).
Contador and Schleck, the 2009 Tour winner and runner-up, respectively, finished two seconds behind to hand the Team Saxo Bank leader a 21-second overall lead over the Spaniard.
Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) finished 52 seconds behind Casar to move into third place overall, 2mins 45secs behind Schleck.
Following his capitulation on Sunday, Lance Armstrong (Team RadioShack) finished 18th, 2:50 behind in a group which included Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo).
Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins finished 30th, 4:55 behind, while Evans (BMC Racing) finished 8:09 behind in 42nd place.
Schleck will wear the Tour race leader's yellow jersey for the first time in his career on tomorrow's 179km 10th stage from Chambery to Gap and will attempt to hold on to it through the remaining 11 days of racing to the Champs Elysees on July 25.
Tomorrow marks Bastille Day, so the French riders will go all out for success on a national holiday.